Sling Blade

Year: 1996
Production Co:
Studio: Miramax Films
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Writer: Billy Bob Thornton
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Dwight Yoakam, J T Walsh, Robert Duvall, John Ritter

Way back in 1996 Billy Bob Thornton was one of the most exciting things to come out of the indie movie scene in a long time, writing, directing and starring in this short, smart, stunning little movie.

He plays a mentally disabled man who's been institutionalised since murdering his family with a machete-style blade (the sling blade of the title) of his family. It's years later and he's due to be released, and he makes an instant connection with little Frank (Black). In true movie kid style, Frank isn't grown up enough to understand Karl's dark past, he can only see a simple man and Karl seems like just another boy.

Karl tries his best to make his way in the new world, going to see the father who never wanted him (Duvall) in his inimitable style (I'm y'boy) and confronting the old man for murdering Karl's infant brother (y'ort not killed m'brother). And every line is seemingly followed my Karl's mental tic, an involuntary utterance of 'mmm-hmm'.

We never see Karl make the decision, but he sees the opportunity to do (in his mind at least) the right thing while restoring the world he knew, the new one - in his words - too big. As their friendship grows, Karl spends more time at Frank's place, getting to know his good-natured mother and her abusive boyfriend (Yoakam). When the act comes it's shocking, violent and deliciously satisfying. It's also surprising to remember that it's mostly off screen.

Thornton blazed onto the scene as an actor to watch, and his career since has been one of diminishing returns. Occasionally his prodigious talent returns (the script for The Gift , his roles in Primary Colors and A Simple Plan), but look here to see where he truly began.

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