The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
“Sling Blade” begins with a remarkable monologue delivered straight to the camera. A man with a raspy voice, an overshot jaw and a lot of pain in his eyes says he reckons we might like to hear about his story, and so he tells it. His name is Karl Childers, he is retarded, and he has been in a state facility since childhood, when he found his mother with her lover and killed them both. But now, he says, “I reckon I got no reason to kill no one. Uh, huh.” Karl is talking to a reporter about his release from the institution. They reckon he has been cured. They are probably right. He is not a killer, would not kill without good and proper reason, and now understands how, as a child, he misinterpreted the situation. As he talks, we are struck by his forceful presence; he is retarded, yes, but he is complex and observant, and has spent a lot of time thinking about what he should and shouldn't do.
If “Forrest Gump” had been written by William Faulkner, the result might have been something like “Sling Blade.” The movie is a work of great originality and fascination by Billy Bob Thornton, who wrote it, directed it and plays Karl Childers. He says that the character “came to him” one morning while he was shaving, and he started talking to himself in the mirror, in Karl's voice.
Thornton is a former country musician turned screenwriter (he wrote the remarkable “One False Move” and “A Family Thing”). He plays Karl as a man of limited intelligence but great seriousness, who reasons as well as he can, and feels deeply. There is pain, humor, irony and sweetness in the character, and a voice and manner so distinctive, he is the most memorable movie character I've seen in a long time. Uh, huh. And the way the story of his freedom unfolds has a terrible fascination: We can guess where events might be leading, and we can see how they cannot be changed.
On his release from prison, Karl is more or less at loose ends. He can fix most anything and gets a job as a garage mechanic. He encounters and befriends a young boy named Frank (Lucas Black), and senses immediately that the boy has a wounded spirit. He meets the boy's mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), who has a good heart and offers to let Karl live with them, in quarters in the garage. Karl soon understands the wounded look in Frank's eyes, because he meets Linda's boyfriend Doyle (country singer Dwight Yoakam), who likes to lounge in the living room, drinking one longneck beer after another and ruling the roost with loud, boorish opinions. His criticisms of the boy are especially cruel.