Sling Blade review

Three words - - Billy Bob Thornton. Name rings a bell? He pops up all over the place in supporting roles, was in Oliver Stone's U-Turn, and will be in this year's second meteor movie Armageddon as a NASA scientist. But would it surprise you to know that he won an Oscar last year? And that it was the prestigious award of Best Original Screenplay for this movie?

A year on (and two years after the film was made), Sling Blade is finally here. It's a low-budget affair, written, directed and starring Thornton, who also raised the money independently and found a distributor. It's clear to see it's a labour of love and, as such, is about 20 minutes too long. Being an auteur is all well and good, but when will they learn to be less precious and use a level-headed editor?

Sling Blade's a simple tale about a simple man. Thornton plays Karl with fierce methodology that, after only a few minutes of his random throaty murmurings, constant rubbing of hands, rasping voice and facial ticks, you forget about the actor and concentrate on the character. Thornton developed Karl as a set of monologues for stage and, in an early, single-shot scene, sits for five minutes, re-telling the killings to a journo.

While all this is fiercely engaging, the pace of the next two hours is as slow as Karl. We meet a boy who befriends him (Lucas Black from American Gothic), his mom, her foul-tempered, redneck construction-worker boyfriend and her kind, gay best-friend. We learn that, like all film idiot savants, Karl has a special gift (fixing lawnmowers) and so meet his implausibly fat boss and good-old-boy co-worker. The characters are engrossing, as is the fact it's set in Arkansas, where men are called things like Bubba. And that's the pic's saving grace as, aside from scenes exploring such characters, the plot consists of little more than wondering if Karl will kill again, and if so, who.

On the one hand uneventful and plodding, yet also funny and shocking, Sling Blade has a splodge of everything. Save beautiful people: everyone in Sling Blade is very, very ugly. The Arkansas Tourist Board must be fuming.

Occasionally ponderous and clearly overlong, Sling Blade is an absorbing, if not especially astonishing movie. Yet excellent casting and an inspired turn from Billy Bob Thornton raise it above being merely a bleak, indie version of Forrest Gump.

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