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Laramie Movie Scope:
Sling Blade

One of the best movies of 1996, against the odds

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 29, 1997 -- When I watched the Academy Awards ceremonies (also known as the English Patient Awards) the other night I hadn't seen "Sling Blade" yet, so I wondered how a guy named Billy Bob managed to win that screenplay award.

After all, it was one of the few awards not given to the "English Patient," the most overrated film to run away with a bunch of Oscars since "Out of Africa." Is Billy Bob really good enough to stand up to whatever it was the voters saw in the "English Patient?"

Well, I'm here to tell y'all that Billy Bob Thornton is a ring-tailed wonder. Not only did he deserve the award for writing the best adapted screenplay for "Sling Blade," a film he happened to star in and direct as well, if that's not enough talent for you, but "Sling Blade" is a better film than "The English Patient." I'm revising my top 10 list of 1996 to include it. "The English Patient" didn't make the original top 10 list in any case.

While I'm on the subject, Juliette Binoche's award for best supporting actress was a travesty. Her role in the film was about as important as that woman who sat on the bench next to Forrest Gump. As one disgruntled film buff put it "If you are not going to give the award to Lauren Bacall, at least give it to the best of the remaining four candidates, for God's sake!" All Binoche had going for her was that she was in "The English Patient" and that was enough.

Awarding the best dramatic musical score to Out of North Africa, I mean, "The English Patient" was a joke too. That overblown score detracted from, rather than added to the movie, and costme design? Give me a break, the costumes in the English Patient were all the same color, tan. What creativity. At least the costumes in "Emma" had some different colors.

Anyway, back to better films, and a pat on the back to the Academy for their award to Billy Bob. He did a great job with this very compelling story. Kudos, too to country singer Dwight Yoakam, who plays a nasty character by the name of Doyle Hargraves.

Hargraves has cast an evil spell over the lives of young Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black II) and his widowed mother, Linda Wheatley, one of those women who seems to have a very bad taste in men. Along comes Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton), just released from a mental hospital after killing his mother and her lover in a fit of rage years before.

Childers befriends the boy and all seems to be going well until Hargraves threatens the boy and her mother during one of his frequent cycles of abuse. That forces Childers to take action.

Another pleasant surprise in the movie is a very fine acting job by John Ritter, who plays a homosexual named Vaughan Cunningham, another friend of the Wheatleys who tries to protect them against Hargraves. Robert Duvall has a cameo role as Childers' father and film director Jim Jarmusch ( Dead Man) has a cameo role as the Frosty Freeze Boy.

In addition to being well acted, the film is also surprisingly well photographed (by Barry Markowitz) and edited (by Hughes Winborne) for a low-budget production. The film does contain some harsh language and it is a tragic story, but it is also very moving and, at times, funny. This is a real triumph for Billy Bob. Nice guys do finish first sometimes. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1997 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)