SLING BLADE (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
July 29, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Billy Bob Thornton’s masterpiece ‘SLING BLADE’ gets its High Definition treatment. The Blu-ray release features the original theatrical cut, all the special features from the 10th Anniversary DVD release. With its beautiful picture quality and lossless soundtrack, the Blu-ray version is the definitive version to own!”
TITLE: SLING BLADE
DURATION: 135 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
COMPANY: Miramax Films
RATED: R (For Strong Language, Description of Violent and Sexual Behavior)
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Written and Directed by Billy Bob Thornton
Executive Produced by Larry Meistrich
Produced by David L. Bushell, Brandon Rosser
Music by Daniel Lanois
Director of Photography: Barry Markowitz
Edited by Hughes Winborne
Casting by Sarah Tackett
Production Design by Clark Hunter
Set Decoration by Traci Kirshbaum
Costume Design by Doug Hall
Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers
Dwight Yoakam as Doyle Hargraves
J.T. Walsh as Charles Bushman
John Ritter as Vaughan Cunningham
Lucas Black as Frank Wheatley
Natalie Canerday as Linda Wheatley
James Hampton as Jerry Woolridge
Robert Duvall as Karl’s FAther
Rick Dial as Bill Cox
Brent Briscoe as Scooter Hodges
Mickey Jones as Monty Johnson
25 years after committing an unthinkable crime, a quiet man named Karl (Thornton) finally returns home. Once there, he’s befriended by a fatherless boy and his mother. But when his newfounded peace is shattered by the mother’s abusive boyfriend (Grammy winner Dwight Yoakam), Karl is suddenly placed on a collision course with his past! Also starring Robert Duvall, John Ritter and J.T. Walsh, this emotional powerhouse is an unforgettable experience for the eyes and ears as well as the heart. Feel the stirring power of “Sling Blade” as never before in Blu-ray High Definition.
Billy Bob Thornton is a perfect example of a starving actor who came from Arkansas with a friend and despite having a few appearances on television and film, it was not until 1996 when the actor’s short film and screenplay known as “Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade” was adapted to a full-feature film. Written and directed by Thornton (“Monster’s Ball”, “Eagle Eye”, “Mr. Woodcock”, “The Alamo”, “Bad Santa”, etc.), “Sling Blade” was the film that launched his career and earn him an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and receive critical acclaim.
Shot with a small budget of uner a $1,000,000, the independent film would earn over $24 million domestically at the box office and would become a big hit worldwide.
The film would star John Ritter (“8 Simple Rules…For Dating My Teenage Daughter”, “Three’s Company”, “Clifford”, etc.), J.T. Walsh (“The Negotiator”, “Pleasantville” and “Nixon”), Country singer Dwight Yoakam (“Crank” and “Panic Room”), Lucas Black (“The Miracle Worker”, “Friday Night Lights”, “Jarhead”, etc.), Natalie Canerday (“Walk the Line” and “October Sky”) and Robert Duvall (“The Godfather”, Days of Thunder” and “Colors”).
The film revolves around Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) as a man who is being released from a state mental hospital. Karl has been in custody at the hospital probably for over 20 years since killing his mother and a man who he thought was raping his mother (but both were having an affair) with a kaiser blade (aka sling blade).
Karl is looked at as mentally retarded but immediately after his release, he seems to be a man that is well respected by the person in charge of the mental hospital and given a new chance in life by working at a lawnmower repair store in which he does an exceptional job and earns praise from his boss.
But its his friendship with a boy named Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) that helps him adjust to his life out in the real world. Frank is the son of Linda Wheatley, who works at a department store managed by Vaughan Cunningham (John Ritter). Frank’s father committed suicide a few years ago due to financial stress and since then his mother ended up finding a new boyfriend named Doyle Hargrave (Dwight Yoakam). Frank respects his father tremendously and misses him but he can’t stand Doyle.
Doyle is an abusive boyfriend that Linda stays with, also for the fact that if she tries to leave him, he told her that he will kill her. Doyle looks at Frank as a thorn in his side and a thorn in his relationship with Frank’s mother and treats him like dirt most of the time. Doyle makes fun of his father and tells him that his father is weak and thus his son is weak. It’s evident that Doyle more than likely has abused both Linda and Frank. Doyle has an attitude that he’s not scared of anyone and doesn’t like being told what to do.
Despite Linda’s close friendship with Vaughan, Frank would rather have his mom’s best friend Vaughan to be her boyfriend because he’s a good guy but since he’s gay, it’s not going to happen. And as fare as defending his mother from Doyle, he’s not strong enough to defend them when in trouble.
So, Frank looks at Karl as a man who can listen to his problems and in a way, starts to bond with him. Especially since he was the same age when Karl was part of that real world before the murders.
Eventually, Karl is invited to live with the Wheatley’s and it infuriates Doyle that his girlfriend hangs out with a gay man, lets a stranger who is mentally retarded living in their back room and her son that he can’t really stand and wants him to know that with him there, he is the man of the house and wants everyone to fear him. Something that he does a great job doing. Doyle starts to show abusive of a person he is when he’s drunk.
But its that special friendship that Karl has for Frank, the fact that this young boy accepts him almost a like a father figure and because of that, Frank will do what it takes to protect Frank and his mother.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
It’s important to let people know that this film was an Independent film made for under a million dollars and shot in 24 days. In fact, during the filming, the producers didn’t have all the money set while filming “Sling Blade”, so this is not exactly a film to expect caliber film material used during filming.
“Sling Blade” is featured on High Definition for the first time. The film receives a 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio) transfer and for the most part, the film looks good on Blu-ray. For a film that is 15 years old, there are parts with occasional dust but for a classic film, Miramax has opted for no DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) and kept the grain intact. I do feel that Billy Bob Thornton found a very good director with Barry Markowitz to capture the feel of a small town. Capturing the detail of the shop that Karl works at to the look and feel of the film that makes you wonder if it’s late 1950’s America or modern America. Of course, it’s the latter but the fact is that Thornton with Markowitz are able to capture look and feel of that small town quite well on film. Could it have been better if they using high end equipment, possibly. But for what they had at their disposal with the small budget they had to work with, you can’t help but be proud at what this crew was able to accomplish.
As for audio, the film is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (also Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital). The film is definitely dialogue driven. This is not a film with sound effects or a film that will utilize the entire soundscape. But what was important for Billy Bob Thornton was to capture the audio and making sure that sound was clear (especially during Robert Duvall’s scene) and most of all, the music of Daniel Lanois was used effectively. There is a featurette dedicated to the use of music in the film but for the most part, this is a front and center channel driven film.
It’s important to note that with this Blu-ray release, picture quality is much clearer. Where the original DVD has its share of digital compression artifacts, it not as prominent on the Blu-ray release. Also, the lossless soundtrack is clear and pristine and definitely, watching this film on HD was awesome!
Subtitles featured are in English SDH and Spanish.
“Sling Blade” comes with the following special features featured in 480i Standard Definition and English 2.0 Dolby Digital:
- Audio Commentary by Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton – A very informative commentary by Billy Bob Thornton. Who goes into detail of how certain shots were created. The talents on the film and shooting with a low budget with a tight schedule. Overall, a very enjoyable commentary.
- Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood – (1:06:51) A featurette about Billy Bob Thornton’s rise to fame. From living in Arkansas and he and a friend moving to California and living with little money, Thornton working odd jobs and eventually getting a job at Shakey’s pizza and his struggles as an actor. Interviews with people close to Thornton including friends, former girlfriend that is a producer and many others who give us an idea of what kind of man Billy Bob Thornton is.
- Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton – (43:24) An older featurette that features Billy Bob Thornton during the time he was married with Angelina Jolie. Interviews with Matt Damon, Angelina and other talents and people who have worked with Billy Bob. I have to admit, this featurette took place during a time when he and Angelina Jolie were a hot couple and with a really good featurette with “Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood”, this is one featurette I wouldn’t mind if it was cut out. It’s more or less a rehash of the previous featurette but with interviews with his now ex-wife and a few other talents.
- A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones and Producer David Bushell – (1 hr., 15 min.) A very cool roundtable with everyone talking about their memories of the film ten years later. From how Lucas Black was cast, their memories of John Ritter and J.T. Walsh, shooting on a small budget and in 24-days, hiring his high school buddy Rick Dial for the film and how he has appeared in other films since then, working with Robert Duvall and also discussing about the one person in Hollywood who disliked the film and the script. An all out, no holds barred roundtable discussion. Very entertaining to watch.
- A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall – (8:31) Billy Bob Thornton’s movie legends was Robert Duvall and so Billy Bob talked about how he met Robert and how they have enjoyed working with each other. Robert Duvall remembers working with Thornton especially the place that they ate.
- A Conversation with Robert Duvall – (7:35) Robert Duvall talks about working with Billy Bob Thornton and why the film worked.
- A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois – (22:59) Featuring Daniel Lanois performing “Omni” and an interview how Billy Bob Thornton came to select Daniel to create the music for the film, how Daniel enjoyed creating the music for the film and working with Billy Bob and more. Also, creating music for certain scenes and their favorite musical scene in the film.
- The Return of Karl – (3:40) A rehearsal of Billy Bob on the set as Karl (improvising with crew).
- On the Set: There are a total of three small featurettes in this segment. Billy Bob at Work (4:39) which is behind-the-scenes footage of Billy Bob working with his cinematographer. Doyle’s Bad: The Johnsons (1:44) the filming of that scene when the band is playing. Doyle Gets Pummeled (1:53) – Watching the filming of the intense scene when Doyle gets drunk and Frank defends his mother.
- “Doyle’s Dead” with Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton – (4:23) A scene that was shot with two of the band members from the Johnson’s trying to make music after the death of Doyle. There is an introduction by Billy Bob Thornton and why he did use this segment in the film.
When watching the “Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood” featurette. About 52:08 minutes into the featurette, a white silhouette featuring Karl sitting in a recliner will show up. Click on that symbol and sure enough a 21: second video features Billy Bob Thornton as Karl and Lucas Black as Frank starts playing.
There is no doubt that “Sling Blade” is a powerful and magnificent performance by Billy Bob Thornton.
This was a film that was planned very well and Billy Bob Thornton has discussed shooting the film in 24 days, writing the film in 9 writing days and shooting the film for over $900,000. This is Independent filmmaking at its finest. The ability to create a film that feels so natural, to shoot in a town that just feels right for the film and to cast well-known stars that you don’t realize who they are until a few minutes later and realize that Doyle is Dwight Yoakam and Vaughan is John Ritter and of course, to see this transformation of Billy Bob Thornton to Karl is amazing.
Needless to say, this film is a true masterpiece and screenwriting at its best. Rarely do you see a film written, directed and starring an actor that would receive such worldwide critical acclaim, shot on a shoestring budget and to be enjoyed by so many people.
And here we are with the Blu-ray release that pretty much marks nearly the 15th year anniversary of the film. It’s important to note that this release is NOT the same as the 10th Anniversary Original Cut which is about 148 minutes long. This is the theatrical cut which works perfectly. The Original Cut just went too long and I’m glad Miramax opted for the theatrical cut.
So, for those who are wondering if it’s worth the double dip, especially if you own the 10th Anniversary DVD, my answer is yes. You get the film in High Definition video and the lossless soundtrack. Granted, this film was a low-budget independent film but the detail is much more clearer than its DVD counterpart and the lossless soundtrack is much more clearer, especially the music of Daniel Lanois. For the most part, the same special features from the 10th Anniversary DVD release are included on this Blu-ray. I would not discard the 10th Anniversary DVD because that version is the “original cut” at 148 minutes. I do prefer the theatrical cut featured on the Blu-ray at 135 minutes.
If there was anything that I wish was included on the Blu-ray is the short film “Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade” which stars Billy Bob Thornton and Molly Ringwald. It would have been nice to see the short film which inspired the adaptation to a full-length film.
Overall, “SLING BLADE” is a film that is solidified itself as a movie classic. A film that will touch people on many different layers due to its brilliant performances from the film’s talents, a film that need not be filmed in metropolitan city but capturing the small town Americana feel in Arkansas, showing us that a film does not need a tremendous amount of money to create a major film but that this film is just fresh, unique and for the most part, a brilliant masterpiece from Billy Bob Thornton.
“SLING BLADE” is highly recommended!
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