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Sling Blade (1996)

R | | Drama | 14 March 1997 (USA)
1:52 | Trailer

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Karl Childers, a simple man hospitalized since his childhood murder of his mother and her lover, is released to start a new life in a small town.



(play), (screenplay)
1,488 ( 52)
Won 1 Oscar. Another 13 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Natalie Canerday ...
Karl's Father
Rick Dial ...
Melinda (as Christy Ward)
Sarah Boss ...
Kathy Sue Brown ...
Wendell Rafferty ...
Bruce Hampton ...
Morris (as Col. Bruce Hampton Ret.)


A partially handicapped man named Karl is released from a mental hospital, about 20 years after murdering his mother and another person. Karl is often questioned if he will ever kill again, and he shrugs in response saying there is no reason to. Now out of the mental institution, Karl settles in his old, small hometown, occupying himself by fixing motors. After meeting a young boy named Frank, who befriends him, Karl is invited to stay at Frank's house with his mother Linda, who views Karl as a strange but kind and generous man. However, Linda's abusive boyfriend, Doyle, sees things differently in the way rules ought to be run- normally insulting Linda's homosexual friend Vaughan as well as Karl's disabilities, and having wild parties with his friends. As Karl's relationship with Frank grows, he is watchful of Doyle's cruel actions. Written by commanderblue

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Sometimes a hero comes from the most unlikely place. See more »



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong language, including descriptions of violent and sexual behavior | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:




Release Date:

14 March 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Resplandor en la noche  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$890,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$36,644 (USA) (29 November 1996)


$24,475,416 (USA) (25 July 1997)

Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (director's cut)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


According to Billy Bob Thornton, in an interview on The Howard Stern Show (2/7/1997), Karl living behind a shed is based on a boy where he grew up who could not walk or talk very well, so his parents kept him in the shed. Billy says the story is that the boy's mother was scared by a snake when she was pregnant, so they felt he was like a child of the devil. They kept him locked up and fed him like a dog. It turned out the boy had polio. See more »


Shadow visible in front of a tree when Jerry and Karl are walking. See more »


Frank Childers: I'd kick your head in 25 years ago, but you're dead, I guess. Where'd you go to?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Dedicated to Jimmy Don Thornton See more »


References The Simple-Minded Murderer (1982) See more »


Written by Pete Anderson
Performed by Titty Twister
Courtesy of Peter Anderson & Jesse Lee Music (BMI)
See more »

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User Reviews

Filmmaking at it's Best

As someone who loves good filmmaking, I rate this film among the best I've ever seen in all areas of the craft. Some of the criticisms of this film are hard to fathom.

The screenplay has the tight conciseness of a well-honed play (which this essentially was derived from) and doesn't fail to prick at the emotions and the intellect of the viewer. The photography, the casting and the editing all click together quite admirably.

However, I always marvel at the negative, emotionalized responses to otherwise superb films such as this by those who seem to miss the entire point of a movie like "Sling Blade".

I did not see a political message about abortion, or a justification of murder or even a backhanded putdown of the rural people of Arkansas. (Many of the characters were locals, by the way.) Some viewers are setting themselves up to be against this film since they are wearing their own feelings on their sleeves and fail to see the subtle layers of the story. They are seeing only the reflection of themselves on the surface of the water, rather than the complex world below.

Theater and film are rooted in images and characterizations designed to help us explore the human condition. It was once said that Tolstoy's voluminous novel "War and Peace" could be summed up in a single sentence thereby negating the need to write the book. Art is not a fast explanation, but a captivating and thought-provoking trip that hopefully forces us to think about our own motivations. Taking a one-dimensional view of this film might lead one to believe that Karl Childer's central message is that we should all eat biscuits smeared with mustard.

"Sling Blade" excels at the job of making us examine the terrible choices life gives us by providing a set of characters who interact in a moving, curious and revealing way. It is not reality nor is it political, but a method by which we can look at our own individual realities.

Others who seemed disenchanted with this film out-of-hand are those who found it "slow". Helloooo! This film is SUPPOSED to be slow and agonizingly so. It is carefully walking you to the conclusion, step-by-step, so you can squirm uncomfortably at the overall foreshadowing. It ain't an explosion-a-minute John Woo filmmaking and it certainly isn't light comedy, though it induces a surprising number of smiles.

This is a film that makes us look at true evil in the form of J.T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakum and Robert Duval's characters and compare it to the pure goodness of the damaged creature portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton, whose own brutalization leads him to seek justice in his own imperfect way.

To help those out who didn't "get" this film, I might recommend that you consider Thornton's character to be an amalgamation of Herman Melville's innocently homicidal protagonist in "Billy Budd" and Mary Shelley's sad monster Frankenstein. These characters, like Thornton's Karl Childers, were dramatic vehicles for the purpose of making us think. They did bad things but we were forced to view them compassionately because they reflected our own conflicting traits.

Don't read things into a film that aren't there, but don't ignore the interesting elements that are. Get those wheels upstairs turning and start enjoying intelligent filmmaking instead of merely seeking an excitement fix!

164 of 178 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Recent Posts
Sling Blade about racism? sean-conley89
One thing changes the whole idea behind the character of 'Karl'... MikeDopeLess
Delete your post, Doyle Hargraves style. ocwritin
What scene made you cry? sagal702-3
Why didn't Doyle get up? longlivepeewee
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