Sling Blade – Exclusive Director’s Cut

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Rating: R

Starring:
Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers
Dwight Yoakam as Doyle Hargraves
J.T. Walsh as Charles Bushman
John Ritter as Vaughan Cunningham
Lucas Black as Frank Wheatley
Natalie Canerday as Linda Wheatley
James Hampton as Dr. Jerry Woolridge
Robert Duvall as Frank Childers
Rick Dial as Bill Cox
Brent Briscoe as Scooter Hodges
Christy Ward as Melinda
Sarah Boss as Marsha Dwiggins
Kathy Sue Brown as Theresa Evans
Wendell Rafferty as Melvin
Bruce Hampton as Morris

Special Features:
Feature Commentary With Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton

Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood

Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton

A Roundtable Discussion With Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones, And Producer David Bushell

A Conversation With Billy Bob Thornton And Robert Duvall

A Conversation With Robert Duvall

A Conversation With Billy Bob Thornton And Composer Daniel Lanois

The Return Of Karl

On The Set: Billy Bob At Work; Doyle’s Band: The Johnsons; Doyle Gets Pummeled; “Doyle’s Dead” With Introduction By Billy Bob Thornton

Sling Blade Reviews

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 148 Minutes

Synopsis:
Sling Blade was originally released in 1996. The following is the official description of the DVD:

“The Miramax Collector’s Series proudly presents the two-disc release of the powerful motion picture applauded by critics and moviegoers alike … written, directed, and starring Billy Bob Thornton (1996 Academy Award(TM) Winner, Best Adapted Screenplay and Academy Award(R) Nominee, Best Actor). Twenty five years after committing an unthinkable crime, a quiet man named Karl (Thornton) is finally returning home. Once there, he is befriended by a fatherless boy and his mother. But when his new-found peace is shattered by the mother’s abusive boyfriend (Grammy-winner Dwight Yoakam), Karl is suddenly placed on a collision course with his past! Also featuring Robert Duvall (Open Range), John Ritter (Bad Santa), and J.T. Walsh (Breakdown) — Sling Blade is an unforgettable movie experience!”

Sling Blade – Exclusive Director’s Cut is not rated, but the original was rated R for strong language, including descriptions of violent and sexual behavior.

The Movie:
Despite the Academy Awards, the critical acclaim, and the pop culture references to Karl, I had never seen Sling Blade until this DVD arrived. I was certainly familiar with the actors, the characters, and the premise of the film, but I had never gone out of my way to watch it. (As such, I can’t really comment on how this Director’s Cut compares to the original version.) After viewing it, I found Sling Blade to be in some ways better than I expected and in some ways worse than I expected.

In a lot of ways Sling Blade is very predictable. As soon as the premise is set up, it’s pretty obvious how the film is going to end. There’s no mystery or surprises at all surrounding it. You discover that Karl is a mentally challenged murderer who is being released from prison, then he befriends a boy whose mother is involved with an abusive boyfriend. I reckon the ending is pretty obvious. Hm…Hmm… Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton does throw out a couple of really amusing curve balls to make you think it will end differently, but he ends up staying the course. (One scene where you think Karl is going to kill Doyle then he doesn’t particularly stood out to me.) Unfortunately, this predictability makes it less enjoyable.

The real appeal of the story is how Thornton fleshes out the characters along the way. The way they relate to each other, how they tell their histories, and how they react to various situations is what glues you to the screen for over two hours. He creates some colorful Southern characters that you quickly become emotionally invested in.

First and foremost is Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers. When he first appeared on screen with the bizarre facial expressions and grating voice, I was simultaneously amused and turned off by his performance. It seemed way over the top. But as the movie progressed, I found myself buying his character more and more. Thornton undergoes a subtle yet remarkable physical transition to play Karl. It’s hard to believe he’s the same guy. A young Lucas Black plays Frank Wheatley, Karl’s friend. The two develop a brother / father-son relationship that is very believable. Black did an especially good job considering his young age at the time. John Ritter is also good as Vaughan Cunningham, a gay man living in a rural Southern town. Who would have thought Ritter could play a gay man??? Er….wait a minute. Anyway, it’s interesting to see him trying to fit into an environment that is otherwise unfriendly towards people of his persuasion. Dwight Yoakam won a lot of acclaim as the abusive boyfriend Doyle Hargraves, but I honestly didn’t think he was any better or worse than the rest of the cast. I don’t think it’s that difficult to play the villainous redneck of Sling Blade, but he did an adequate enough job. I particularly enjoyed Doyle and Karl’s final scene together. It was one of the creepiest cinematic moments I’ve seen in a long time. Robert Duvall also gets top billing, but I was surprised to find that he was in a minor role. He barely has any lines.

Sling Blade is a good looking film. It makes Arkansas look alternately beautiful and creepy. I also liked the music by Daniel Lanois and Barry Cole. It goes from sleepy to surreal to creepy to inspirational all in a very short time span. It beautifully fit the mood of the scenes.

If you’re an established fan of Sling Blade or Billy Bob Thornton, then you’ll want to add this Director’s Cut to your collection. If you’re like me and you’ve never seen it, then you’ll want to check it out if you like character dramas or portraits of Southern lifestyle. I think Sling Blade will satisfy you.

The Extras:
There are quite a few bonus features on this DVD. Here are the highlights:

Feature Commentary With Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton – The commentary is actually a combination of the original commentary for the earlier DVD plus some new commentary recorded recently by Thornton for the added scenes. He’s awful soft spoken while talking, so it’s not a real dynamic commentary, but it is informative regarding how he made the film.

Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood – This hour long documentary tells the life story of Thornton and then details the making of Sling Blade. Thornton discusses his early attempts to break into acting, his scare with heart problems, how he got Sling Blade made, and more. It’s an incredibly thorough and interesting look at the actor. The documentary also interviews Jim Varney, John Ritter, Hank Azaria, and other friends and family. Even if you’re not a fan of the actor, it’s an interesting tale of breaking into Hollywood.

Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton – This Bravo profile is around 45 minutes long and it covers a lot of the same ground as the previous documentary. This time around there are interviews with Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and other friends and family. The feature is also unique because it goes on a road trip with Thornton back to his home town. It shows him on the road, interacting with people from his town, and more. It’s a bit more personal.

A Roundtable Discussion With Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones, And Producer David Bushell – This is simply a Q&A with the actor and his friends. It stands out a little more because Thornton uses a lot more of his trademark profanity unlike in the previous 2 hours of bonus features.

A Conversation With Billy Bob Thornton And Robert Duvall – In this informal Q&A, the two actors discuss how they met, what they thought of each other when they first began acting, their favorite restaurants in Abilene, Texas, and more.

A Conversation With Robert Duvall – This is more of the same from above, just with Duvall alone.

A Conversation With Billy Bob Thornton And Composer Daniel Lanois – These are more Q&A’s with Thornton’s composer from Sling Blade.

The Return Of Karl – On the set of Thornton’s film “Daddy and Them”, Thornton acted out a scene with some of the actors while in character as Karl. It’s funny if you’ve seen Sling Blade, but it does run a little long. This was included on the “Daddy and Them” DVD.

On The Set: Billy Bob At Work; Doyle’s Band: The Johnsons; Doyle Gets Pummeled; “Doyle’s Dead” With Introduction By Billy Bob Thornton – These are a series of behind the scenes clips from the making of the movie. There’s no commentary with them, but it’s interesting to see Thornton on the set of Sling Blade out of character.

Sling Blade Reviews – These are a few text movie reviews from the LA Times and other publications.

The Bottom Line:
This Director’s Cut of Sling Blade should satisfy fans of the movie as well as fans of Billy Bob Thornton. While the story is predictable, the characters are engaging and all the actors deliver fine performances.

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