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Sling Blade

Reviewed by: Jordan Wyatt

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
100 min.

Starring: Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, Jerry Woolridge, Robert Duvall / Director: Billy Bob Thornton / Released by: Miramax

“Sling Blade” is the story of an unlikely hero. The main character, Carl Childress, is middle aged and mentally handicapped. The film begins in an Arkansas mental hospital where he is being released after 25 years “treatment.” Carl was institutionalized for the murders of his mother and her teenager lover; a crime he committed at a young age. Upon returning to his small Arkansas hometown, Carl learns that lots of things have changed “on the outside.”

Carl befriends a young boy, Frank, who lost his own father to suicide. Carl eventually moves into Frank’s garage, with the consent of Frank’s mother, Linda.

As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the other important characters: Vaughn Cunningham (John Ritter) is a tender, caring individual who is a close friend of Linda’s but cannot adequately fill the role of father figure to Frank because of his homosexual lifestyle. Doyle Harper (Dwight Yocum) is Linda’s evil boyfriend. He is physically and verbally abusive to Frank, Linda and Vaughn on a regular basis. Carl teaches Frank that children should think good thoughts and avoid hate, something Frank struggles with because he wants to rid his life of Doyle. Carl emerges as a caring individual who’s strives for Frank’s happiness.

The biggest issues of this film are murder, and the “situational ethics” which are woven to justify them. Most viewers will feel that the murders Carl committed as a youth were the excusable result of the brainwashing his parents subjected him to, the fact that he was never taught social skills, and the numerous traumatic events he experienced, especially the death of his baby brother.

There’s also the issue of homosexuality. I feel the issue of homosexuality was dealt with in a manner that all Christians can be proud of (or at least comfortable with). Carl’s statement that “The Bible says that two men ought not to to lie together…” was a perfect line. It condemned the act, but not the person; in this case, Vaughn Cunningham.

It was important that Carl was portrayed as a person of faith. I liked the Baptism scene and viewed it as a personal repentance from Carl. And the parallels between Carl’s baptism and Christ’s baptism were evident.

Carl Childress is an unlikely hero who sacrifices himself for a friend. Not since “Cool Hand Luke” has there been such an impressive Christ-like character on the screen.

“Sling Blade” is rated “R” for profanity, mild and implied violence, and controversial adult-oriented themes. Most of the profanity is from Doyle and the opening scene with J.T. Walsh’s character. Pre-marital sex is implied, but not shown.

Year of Release—1997

Viewer Comments
I cannot believe that you would not condemn this movie because of the murder that Billy Bob Thornton’s character commits in the movie. I totally thought that wasted the whole movie and would NOT recommend it to others. Thornton’s character premeditates an act of murder on the boyfriend, he even ask him how you dial 911. He knows that this man will die. He has done this before and knows what will happen to him now, he’s not stupid! Did he forget in the bible where it says THOU SHALL NOT KILL! The boyfriend is evil and mean but that doesn not mean he deserves to be killed! People like him need JESUS to set them free in order to stop abusing. Perhaps if Thornton’s character shared the gospel with him, the boyfriend may have gotten saved. IF not, then there are programs and polce that can help the woman to escape and live a normal life.

When I saw “Sling Blade”, I really thought it was a good movie, and made me a fan. Most of what Karl says and his actions were pretty accurate, I guess, Christian wise. I read the reviews and comments, and I agree. But I just wonder if the fact that Karl killed Doyle intentionally to save Frank and his mother, bothered anyone. Yes, it’s in the good heart to save them, but I can’t help but remember that it is still “murder.” For some reason, It seems that the Karl, we learn to identify as a faithful Christian, chose sin (which is against God) over human being, by murdering another human being. I do not mean that it must be perfect, because people and things aren’t perfect. Also that “Sling Blade” isn’t made for Christians but for the movie watching audience. It’s a story that Billy Bob Thornton wanted to write for his movie…
As I read the review of “Sling Blade” I was wondering if the folks reviewing had ever heard of Flannery O'Connor or had any relationship with the American South? It appears to me that Karl is an example of the “out of place” redeemer clearly seen in O'Connor and much of Southern Literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, Horton Foote’s plays, etc). As difficult as it for some to see Karl is the Christ figure in the movie. As Jesus (because of His holiness, mercy, love,etc) was the “out of place” redeemer so Karl portrays him in that way. Vaughn is perhaps like the sinful woman. Jesus, however, would have said “go and sin no more.” As disturbing as this movie is it really is a remarkable film.
Lee Ferguson
I appreciate the reviewer’s five-star rating—this was an amazing film—but I have to object to the reviewer’s emphasis on murder as the issue of the film. Just as important, I felt were the issues of verbal and physical abuse. I also think that Karl’s statements about homosexuality were intended more as a summary of the difficulties Vaughn faced living as a homosexual in a small, conservative town.
Bruce James, age 23