Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton)

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

Billy Bob Thornton co-wrote the screenplays for One False Move and A Family Thing -- fine movies both -- and now makes his directorial debut with Sling Blade, which he also wrote, and in which he plays the leading role. Though it's occasionally too sweetly sentimental -- there are a few shots that I would have urged Thornton to remove, including the one that's seen in the poster art -- this is an excellent, understated film, beautifully written and ably directed. There's never any doubt about where it's going, but the pleasure of the journey is in the details; Sling Blade earns its leisurely pace with a wealth of keen observation and behavioral nuance. Thornton's believably creepy and mannered performance as the goodhearted but occasionally violent Karl is remarkable; anyone who thinks Tom Hanks deserved the Oscar he won for playing Forrest Gump should see this movie and then think on the matter again. John Ritter and Dwight Yoakam, believe it or not, do first-rate work in supporting roles. A low-key, mordantly funny, and deeply felt triumph.