BAM Best Picture Profile: Sling Blade (1997)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Much like my first selection, this film was one I first viewed on video and a year later than its initial release. Although, Sling Blade being a highly acclaimed film unlike my first choice, was a later-in-the-year release poised for awards season.

I have revisited Sling Blade again recently enough such that I didn’t feel the need to see it again to be able to write about it comfortably. One thing that bears noting is that since a fair amount of time has passed, and considering the trajectory of Billy Bob Thornton’s career; this is a film that deserves to be talked about and remembered. Trajectory more in terms of the kinds of roles and films Thornton has made more often since then. Sure, Sling Blade has its comedic and heart-warming moments but at its core there’s a classical dramatic arc to the story. He’s played a lot more straight comedies since this film than dramas or even dramedies.

All of that is meant to underscore the fact that Sling Blade may be one of the greatest “showcase” type films ever created. Actors often will, and at times are encouraged, to develop their own idea to showcase a side of themselves they can’t seem to in other films, or simply to prove themselves in a meaty role. They do happen, but few are this complete a film and as accomplished works by said actor in all phases he/she participates. In this case Thornton wrote, directed and starred in the film.

However, a film that exists merely to highlight one actor has a hard road to getting to “Best Picture.” What is needed is not only a great supporting cast, but also a great narrative. In story terms it’s not only a tragedy at its heart, but also a story of redemption and looking beneath the surface, there’s a Southern Gothic element.

The cast features great actors, both character and not, like Robert Duvall, J.T. Walsh and John Ritter, but it also features revelations like Lucas Black, whom was a virtual unknown since American Gothic was a very low-rated show; and the film incredibly impressive film debut of country-music star Dwight Yoakam.

What is also worth noting is that while more features than you realize are first born as shorts there’s not many you get to see, and fewer than are just a prelude. Sling Blade is one of those. I was lucky enough to find a copy of Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade and watched it and I was amazed that’s its really just the interview scene, one that’s emulated in the feature, and a great set-up for who Karl is and who he is perceived to be. You can watch it below:

If you can watch that and not want to see the feature if you’ve not there’s nothing else I can say to sell you on its greatness. I’ll close with perhaps the best one-line encapsulation of the film offered by Roger Ebert:

If “Forrest Gump” had been written by William Faulkner, the result might have been something like “Sling Blade.”

It’s sheer brilliance. Enough said.

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