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With 1996ís SLING BLADE ($35), writer/director Billy Bob Thornton created one of the most unique and unsettling films in American cinema. Thornton himself stars in SLING BLADE as Karl Childers, a mentally challenged individual who has spent the last twenty-five years in a mental institution for murder. Deemed "cured" by the state, Karl is released into the outside world- a place for which he is ill prepared. Karl returns to his hometown where he meets Frank, a troubled adolescent who takes an immediate liking to Karl. Frankís mother Linda also takes a liking to Karl and allows him to live in their garage. While living in the garage, Karl encounters Doyle Hargraves, Lindaís abusive boyfriend, who spreads misery to everyone within his proximity.

Like its southern venue, SLING BLADE takes its time telling the tale of Karl Childers, allowing each character in the film to fully develop. Working from his own Academy Award winning screenplay, director Billy Bob Thornton gives his actors an enormous amount of latitude, allowing each to fully realize their characters- including his own. With his Academy Award nominated performance as Karl Childers, Billy Bob Thorton created on of the most memorable characters in the last few decades of cinema. Lucas Black was and is pretty impressive as the young Frank. Completely natural in front of the camera, Black gave a performance every bit as compelling as Thortonís. The late John Ritter was virtually unrecognizable in the guise Vaughan Cunningham and he used the camouflage to help deliver the strongest dramatic performance of his career, one in which he is able to completely shed his goofy THREEíS COMPANY persona. Country singer Dwight Yoakamís portrayal of Doyle Hargraves is one of the filmís most vivid. The cast of SLING BLADE also features JT Walsh, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton and Robert Duvall.

Miramax Home Entertainment has made SLING BLADE available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. Looking better than it ever has in the home venue, one cannot fault the fine 1080p presentation of ultra-low budget independent film. Sure the picture isnít as sharp or as well defined as new films costing one hundred times more, but SLING BLADE holds its own. Some sequences are stronger looking than others; those shot in bright daylight, as well as the close ups usually demonstrate the best definition, in addition to the strongest levels of fine detail and texturing. Darker scenes can come across as under-defined and murky. Colors are rendered with a natural level of saturation and appear true to life. Blacks are relatively accurate, while the whites appear stable. Contrast is just fine for this type of modestly budgeted material. Grain is always present and ranges from modest to downright heavy in low lighting situations.

SLING BLADE is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. While not showy, the sound is surprisingly impressive due to the boosted fidelity of the musical component. The sound design is more indicative of the talky nature of the material, so it is not particularly expansive. However, the music is given a nice spread across the front, with some fill hitting the rear channels. Dialogue is crisply reproduced, with Thortonís gravelly inflections coming across with an excellent sense of character. German 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 language tracks are also encoded onto the disc. Subtitles are available in English, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, German, Indonesian, Korean, Malay, Spanish, Thai and Turkish.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with writer/director/star Billy Bob Thornton. Featurettes and other programs include the following: Mr. Thornton Goes To Hollywood (sixty seven minutes), Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton (forty four minutes), Roundtable Discussion With The Cast (seventy six minutes), A Conversation With Billy Bob Thornton And Robert Duval (nine minutes), A Conversation With Robert Duvall (eight minutes), A Conversation With Billy Bob Thornton And Daniel Lanois (twenty three minutes), The Return Of Karl (four minutes), On The Set (three parts, seven minutes) and the Deleted Scene entitled Doyle's Dead (four minutes).

SLING BLADE remains one of the best independent films of the last few decades. The Blu-ray presentation offers a worthwhile upgrade for fans of this wonderfully unique film. Recommended.



Sling Blade [Blu-ray] (1996)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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