Sling Blade is a unique film in the annals of American cinema. Released to critical acclaim (and, making $24.4 million off of a $1 million budget, it was highly profitable), it was a runaway success and an Academy Award winner (for Best Adapted Screenplay). All that may sound to some like the making of a run-of-the-mill indie flick cum Oscar-bait, but nothing could be further from the truth. It marks the first directorial feature of Billy Bob Thornton (who also writes and stars), for years a struggling actor and screenwriter. Yet despite his somewhat advanced years as a debutant, it’s obvious that despite his relative inexperience in this capacity, he was a gifted individual just waiting to emerge. Granted a small, but sufficient budget by his producers and complete artistic autonomy, Thornton crafts an immediate masterwork. The dark tale of the developmentally disabled Karl Childers, magnificent played by Thornton, and his attempts to reintegrate into society after being released from a mental hospital he has been incarcerated in after brutally killing his mother and her lover at the age of twelve, is a powerful one steeped in the rich tradition of Southern Gothic. Indeed, it unfolds in a manner not unlike that of the elegiac westerns of Cormac McCarthy. It is not all doom and gloom though, for the film is at turns spirited, humorous and heart-warming. However, we can never forget that underneath it’s inherently human story, there is a lurking darkness under the surface. Thornton’s fundamental understanding of his material (adapted from his previous short film Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade) enables him to bring in a strong team of collaborators. It’s a beautifully shot picture, with Barry Markowitz giving the film an ethereal, almost otherworldly quality. Hughes Winborne’s editing ensures that the film, although having a one-hundred and thirty-five minute running time, never outstays its welcome, managing to create an epic scope within a relatively small story. Musician and producer Daniel Lanois contributes a contemplative, soulful and at times rousing musical score. It also features a spirited ensemble cast playing a memorable collection of great characters, included Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton, Jim Jarmusch, Vic Chestnutt and Robert Duvall. Making Thornton’s career overnight, he hasn’t stopped working since, and has done many great things, but in the case, the stars and circumstances aligned. There has never been anything like Sling Blade, and there never will be again.