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This review appears direct to the web courtesy of THE CINEMA LASER.


SLING BLADE ($60) is without question one of the most moving and disturbing pieces of American cinema ever. The film made its writer/director/star Billy Bob Thornton famous and one of the most talked about men in Hollywood during 1996-97. Thornton even took home an Academy Award for his moving screenplay and was nominated for another award for his performance.

SLING BLADE is the story of Karl Childers, a simple-minded man who is released from a mental institution after serving 25 years for murder. Karl returns to his hometown, where he tries to start a new life for himself and is immediately befriended by a troubled boy named Frank. Frank’s widowed mother Linda allows Karl to live in her garage, but Linda’s abusive boyfriend makes life a living hell for anyone within his proximity. SLING BLADE unfolds at a leisurely pace, giving each character a chance to fully develop as the film draws to its inevitable conclusion. Wonderful performances abound in SLING BLADE, thanks to a director who seems more than willing to let his actors flex their muscles. Lucas Black is a true standout. Black is an amazing young performer who couldn’t possibly be any more natural in front of the camera. He brings the character Frank to life in a way that I doubt anyone else in his age group possibly could. John Ritter is virtually unrecognizable in the role of Vaughan Cunningham, which gives him the freedom to deliver a first rate dramatic performance without dealing with the audience’s preconceived notions of him. Country singer Dwight Yoakam is remarkably good as Doyle Hargraves, the abusive drunk who drives the other characters to extremes. Billy Bob Thornton himself takes the central role Karl Childers and delivers one of the most memorable and affecting performances of the last decade. The impressive cast of SLING BLADE also includes JT Walsh, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton and Robert Duvall.

The Criterion Collection has done a fine job transcribing SLING BLADE to Laserdisc. The Letterbox transfer presents SLING BLADE very close to its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Barry Markowitz’s haunting cinematography is reproduced quite beautifully; the shadowy imagery has excellent detail and the colors are vivid. The digitally encoded Dolby Surround soundtrack has a respectable mix perfectly in keeping with the quiet subtlety of the film. The Japanese pressing had some mild speckling.

The chief supplement on this collector’s edition Laserdisc is its audio commentary featuring Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton’s easygoing "good old boy" style makes the commentary entertaining, informative and almost seems as if he were sitting in your home talking about the film. Other supplements include a theatrical trailer, deleted scenes and a featurette about the filmmaker entitled "Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood." The Criterion Collection has packaged the Laserdisc in an attractive gatefold jacket that features liner notes by film critic Roger Ebert.

SLING BLADE is a rare and wonderful small film that deserves to be seen. The Criterion Collection Laserdisc is the ultimate home incarnation for those who appreciate how truly special SLING BLADE is. Recommended.


Laserdisc 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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