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Sling Blade (1996) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 August 2009
Image"Sling Blade" was released in 1996 to much critical acclaim.  I for one had never seen the film until now.  I just never got the inspiration to watch it.  Now that I have, I can admire the cinematic work, but it still isn't for my tastes.  I won't deny that it is well done, but it is too simple and the performances, while exceptional, are quite repetitive.  The bond developed between the two lead characters is the only thing that really evolves over time.  The story is entirely predictable.

"Sling Blade" is based on the short film, "Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade."  The original short starred Billy Bob Thornton as well.  Molly Ringwald also took part in the short film, but replaced in the feature film.  Thornton won the Oscar for Best Adaptated Screenplay in 1997 for this film.

Thornton stars as Karl Childers, who is not endowed with full mental capacity.  The film is generally remembered for his bumbling nature and not for the story.  "Sling Blade" was parodied more times than I can count, however the film is really sentimental at heart.  Karl was convicted at 12 years old of killing his mother and her lover with a sling blade ("some folks call it a kaiser blade").  Now approaching 40 years old, Karl is deemed healthy by the mental hospital and released.

Karl has nowhere to go and no one to go to.  He returns to his hometown where he wanders the streets, discovering french fries potaters.  He also assists a boy home from the laundry mat, befriending him over the course of the film.

Karl's ex-warden helps Karl to find a job fixing lawnmowers and engines at a local garage.  He is offered shelter and a lot of compassion.  When the boy, Frank (Lucas Black) informs his mother of his new friend, he is invited to stay with them in their garage.  It doesn't take long for the mother's boyfriend to show up and start all kinds of trouble.  He is a typical drunk that abuses the woman and boy and everyone around him.  I'm sure you can guess where this is going.

The film takes quite a while to develop a simple bond between Karl and Frank, finally getting to the end, which anyone could see coming.  Seeing as the film won a screenplay award, I guess sometimes simple is better.  Personally I found the one-liners tedious after a while.  While there is no doubt that Thornton's performance is quite good, the film as a whole is better left to a short film.

My personal tastes aside this film is a good cinematic piece.  It delivers the audience a whole-hearted story that provides hope in the goodness of humanity.  I would like to say that the ending is cliché, but it is the only way for the movie to end.  The filmmakers did such a good job that Karl's actions in the end are understandable.  So, while the story is simple, it is very effective.

The cinematography is very minimalistic as well.  That is the overall theme of the film in almost every aspect.  Shot move from establishing shots to extreme close-ups and back.  The scenery isn't always beautiful but the minimal cutting of the shots creates adds to the simple nature of Karl's right and wrong mind. "Sling Blade" arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode and a 1.81:1 aspect ratio.  This is one of the best-looking films from the mid-1990s that I have seen on Blu-ray.  While the cinematography is simple in nature, the visual presentation still has pop.  Colors are as vibrant as they need to be for the town.  The black levels remain deep and stable throughout the film.  Shadow delineation is not the best, but certainly adequate.  Some details become lost in the shadows.  Edges are nicely defined.  There is a very strong layer of film grain covering the image, giving is an independent film-like visual.  Contrast is unstable over the course of the film.  Whites can sometimes bloom due to the boost in contrast.  The contrast and brightness levels don't remain consistent overall.  Details are plentiful.  The background details are some of the best I have seen lately.  Twigs, leaves and costumes all pop with intimate details.  The textures are not as well defined, but they are certainly still above average.  This is a great upgrade from the standard DVD and should be purchased if you are a true fan of the film.

Miramax gives us a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track.  The audio is rather disappointing.  It is very representative of an independent film.  Aside from the already difficult to understand Karl mumbling, the dialogue is very thin.  There is no body to the voice, causing it to sound tinny and weak.  The LFE channel doesn't appear until about one hour and 38 minutes into the film, when the score starts to incorporate underlying tones.  The film has a constant music score, which is quite pleasant.  It has a nice frequency response, but it limited to the front left and right channels.  The surround channels are virtually empty.  There are no discreet effects in the rear channels and hardly does the music or ambience get bled into the surrounds.  This lack of envelopment takes you out of the movie experience.  Balance is also an issue with the dialogue and music.  With the dialogue's weak status, it tends to get overshadowed by the music track.  The entirety of the audio track is mastered way too low, and the dialogue within the audio track is also mastered too low.  The lossless audio track seems to make all the problems with the audio track noticeable.  Sadly, I think the audio track could have been better.

The Blu-ray comes with the same special features as the special edition DVD of the film.  All features have been left in standard definition.  There is quite a substantial amount of information in several of the featurettes.  First there is an audio commentary by writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thornton.  The track is informative but has some lulls.  "Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood" is a long documentary that explores the career of Thornton.  "Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton" is another piece that explores Thornton's career.  It is a bit redundant.  "A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones and Producer David Bushell" is another extraordinarily long segment that has the participants discussing their influences.  "A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall, "A Conversation with Robert Duvall" and "A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois" are all segments, totaling about 40 minutes, exploring relationships.  "The Return of Karl" and "On The Set" are segments that feature some behind-the-scenes footage.  "Doyle's Dead" is a a deleted scene and contains a commentary by Thornton.

"Sling Blade" is not my type of film, but it is certainly well done.  The video quality is better than I expected, but the audio quality suffers despite it being a simple dialogue-driven track.  The special features are extensive, but become repetitive after a while.  There is plenty of information offered in the segments.  Despite my personal interests, I have to recommend this disc for the film and video quality.

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