Study Guide

Sling Blade Director

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Billy Bob Thornton

How close was Billy Bob Thornton to making the final word of Sling Blade "rosebud"? We'll never know, but we do know that Robert Duvall, who plays Karl's deadbeat dad in Sling Blade, called Thornton a "hillbilly Orson Welles" in an interview with Vanity Fair.

He meant it as a compliment. Thornton's streamlined directing style got Sling Blade finished in about three weeks of shooting time. According to Duvall, almost every scene was finished in only two takes to "catch the freshness."

In his review, even Roger Ebert said, "Thornton has made a place for himself among the best new filmmakers" (source). It's incredible to think about what an unstoppable triple threat Thornton was in the mid-90s. He wrote, directed, and starred in Sling Blade as a relative unknown, finishing the movie on time and for a tiny budget.

Thornton's subsequent forays into writing and directing weren't nearly as successful, critically or commercially. He directed the critically maligned All the Pretty Horses in 2000 and wrote the Cate Blanchett psychic thriller The Gift that same year. But he didn't attempt to write, direct, and act at the same time again until Jayne Mansfield's Car (2012), a movie that crashed at the box office.

Bruce Hampton, who plays Doyle's poet friend Morris, said of Thornton, "You don't see people who write, direct and act anymore—they are few and far between." Unfortunately, Jayne Mansfield's Car was a film few saw and even fewer liked, meaning it might be an even longer time before we see the hillbilly Orson Welles attempt another triple threat, if he ever does it again.

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