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With SLING BLADE ($30), writer/director Billy Bob Thornton created one of the most unique and unsettling films in American cinema. Thornton himself stars as Karl Childers, a slow-witted individual who has spent the last twenty-five years in a mental institution for murder. Being deemed "cured" by the state, Karl is released into the outside world- a place for which he is ill prepared. Karl returns to his hometown where he meets Frank, a troubled adolescent who takes an immediate liking to Karl. Frank’s mother Linda also takes a liking to Karl and allows him to live in their garage. While living in the garage, Karl encounters Doyle Hargraves, Linda’s abusive boyfriend who spreads misery to everyone within his proximity. Like its southern venue, SLING BLADE takes its time telling the tale of Karl Childers, allowing each character in the film to fully develop. Director Thornton gives his actors an enormous amount of latitude, allowing each to fully realize their characters. Lucas Black is simply amazing as the young Frank; he is a complete natural in front of the camera and well worth watching in the future. John Ritter completely sheds his THREE’S COMPANY image in the role of Vaughan Cunningham. Ritter is virtually unrecognizable in this guise and uses the camouflage to deliver the strongest dramatic performance of his career. Country singer Dwight Yoakam’s portrayal of Doyle Hargraves is one of the film’s most vivid. In the central role of Karl Childers, Billy Bob Thorton delivers one of the most distinct and memorable performances of the last decade. The cast of SLING BLADE also features JT Walsh, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton and Robert Duvall.

Miramax Home Entertainment offers SLING BLADE on DVD in a Letterboxed presentation that restores most of the film’s 1.85:1 theatrical framing. The transfer is quite good looking and reproduces Barry Markowitz’s cinematography with superior clarity and detail. Color reproduction is quite good as well, with rich saturated hues. Digital compression artifacts were somewhat noticeable, yet never became too bothersome during the film’s darker sequences. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is of the two-channel variety and decodes into standard Dolby Surround. The track is clean and subdued- a perfect complement to the film’s story. Other soundtrack options include a French language track. Spanish subtitles as well as English captioning are available on the DVD. The interactive menus give one access the standard language and scene selection features.

SLING BLADE stands as one of the strongest films of the last decade; the DVD edition is a great way to own it. Recommended.





DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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