Certain films stick out in some actor’s careers as their crowning achievement. For Billy Bob Thornton that film is Sling Blade, a film that he wrote, directed and starred in. Thornton went on to receive two Oscar nominations for his work in this film, one of which he won for Best Adapted Screenplay. While the film is now well over a decade old, watching it to this day is still quite an experience. Although he’s since gone on to star in three dozen other films, none have quite the crowning achievement as this film that has, to date, been the only Oscar win for Thornton.
Sling Blade began life as the critically acclaimed short film “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which Billy Bob Thornton masterfully adapted into a feature film, earning 1997 Oscar® and SAG nominations for his acting, a 1997 WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and a 1997 IFP Spirit Award for Best First Feature for his direction. In addition, he guided his esteemed ensemble cast, including Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights, Jarhead), Robert Duvall (The Apostle, The Godfather), John Ritter (Bad Santa, TV’s “Three’s Company”), J.T. Walsh (A Few Good Men, Nixon) and Dwight Yoakam (Wedding Crashers, Panic Room), to a 1997 SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Now is the perfect time to revisit this powerful, award-winning film and experience it like never before with hauntingly rich Blu-ray picture and sound.
Considering I was six when this film came out, I wasn’t really in any position to actually see this film back when it was garnering nominations and acclimates from those who saw it. It’s such a powerful film that it’s not something you watch often and as such it wasn’t even a film I heard much about growing up; the title stuck out whenever I’d see the VHS at the local library, but I’d never really been a fan of Thornton to begin with so I didn’t bother to look it up when I finally was old enough to watch the film. As a result of all of this I went into the film pretty much with no preconceptions about what the film would be about (aside from what I read on the back cover, anyway).
And I have to say…I was honestly really impressed. It definitely stands up even after all of these years and while it does feel like an Oscar film (in that it’s such a strongly written and acted film that it takes a lot out of you while watching it…leaving you with that sense of “Man, that was a good movie), it’s really an amazingly well crafted story. While the plot won’t leave you too overwhelmed (the ending can be seen coming after about a half an hour into the film), the characters in it are what make it such a rich and enjoyable experience.
The film even sets itself up a bit differently, with you thinking at first that one of the other patients in the mental hospital is actually our main character, but it’s later revealed it was a supporting character we see only briefly in the film. The visual transformation that Thornton went for this film is rather amazing; I’m used to his modern day look and I had no idea that was even him at first. On top of that we got to see the late and great John Ritter in a role that you don’t often hear talked about, even though it really as an excellent performance by him. To be honest, however, the entire film is just filled with remarkable performances; you don’t seen the vast majority of these people still acting and the biggest name in the film was Robert Duvall, who had a very brief and almost meaningless appearance.
Everything about this film from the way that Karl interacts with everyone and everything around him to his ultimate desire to just stay inside the mental hospital rather than venture out into the world on his own, all the way down to the love he has for Frank and Linda…it’s really just a very passionate and moving film. After thinking of Thornton as only being capable for something like Bad Santa, it was really quite amazing to me to see that he wrote, directed and starred in such a powerful film as Sling Blade.
Overall if you haven’t seen the film then do yourself a favor and do so as it comes Recommended. As I said before, the story is a bit predictable, but it’s the strong performances by the cast that make it so worth watching.
Buena Vista/Miramax bring Sling Blade to Blu-ray in a standard Elite Blu-ray case. Inside the case is an advertisement for other Buena Vista titles as well as a Miramax Insider insert that includes a redemption code that is “your ticket to the inside world of entertainment!” Sounds exciting. Disc art mimics the front cover and the AVC encoded 1080p transfer for the film is really an amazing sight. While the menu would have you believe it’s a sepia tone blasted outing, the whole film is filled with natural earth tones and from the start of the film there are copious amounts of great looking sequences to feast your eyes on, whether it’s the wooded areas or just the general southern look of the film. Audio is a bit subdued within the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, but it brings forth the audio in a crystal clear fashion without any distortion. A few surround effects are heard here and there, but nothing that really makes use of a 5.1 set up…not that this is the type of film to really quire such a thing.
Extras include a whole mess of goodies, all ported over from the previous DVD release and in standard definition. Included:
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton
Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood (1:06:51, SD)
Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton (43:24, SD)
A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones and Producer David Bushell (1:15:00, SD)
A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall (8:31, SD)
A Conversation with Robert Duvall (7:35, SD)
A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois (22:59, SD)
The Return of Karl (3:40, SD)
On the Set:
Billy Bob at Work (4:39)
Doyle’s Band: The Johnsons (1:46)
Doyle Gets Pummeled (1:53)
“Doyle’s Dead” with Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton (4:23)
While there’s no new extras, there doesn’t really need to be—the amount here already is just incredible. From the bio of Thornton to the roundtables and conversations, this disc is just packed with goodies to listen and watch.
If you don’t already own the previous DVD release then this one comes Highly Recommended. The amount of extras are just stunning; but if you already own all of the aforementioned extras, then the only thing this release has up on it is the video and audio transfer and, despite a solid video transfer, it doesn’t really scream to be seen. Still, no matter which way you cut it this is a solid package and well worth checking out.
Sling Blade arrives on Blu-ray on August 4th.