Sling Blade

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Sling Blade Movie Poster Image
Intense family drama with strong language, some violence.
  • R
  • 1996
  • 134 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Violent people get back what they put into the world, though not before causing much pain and suffering to others. Fortunately, people who are essentially good will usually receive that back, too. The trouble is that it often takes a long time for both to get what they deserve, and it's not always so clear how that will happen. Sometimes it's hard to tell discern the "right" thing to do, and even harder to do it. There's also a very strong anti-abuse message.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Karl is an unlikely role model, with his violent past and limited capabilities. But when he makes a fateful choice, deciding what he thinks is the right thing to do, he sacrifices everything for two people who were good to him.


Doyle is an unpredictable and violent lout, given to sudden outbursts of screaming and rage, who takes out his frustrations on Frank and his mom. There isn't much physical violence, but Doyle creates an atmosphere of menace and there are several realistic confrontations where he seems to be on verge of mayhem, as well as some loud screaming arguments accompanied by pushing and throwing objects. Some discussion of past violence. The film builds to a single act of shocking violence that isn't totally surprising.


Some graphic discussions about sex, and one character who is mocked for being gay.


Some swearing, including "s--t," "f--k," "p-ssy," and "ass." Also, several graphic descriptions of sexual encounters.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters drink regularly and a few turn out to be very unpleasant drunks.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this intense drama focuses on a mentally disabled man, Karl, who tries to build a life in his rural Arkansas hometown after spending 20 years in a psychiatric hospital for a brutal murder. He forms a surprisingly touching bond with a 12-year-old boy, and moves into the dysfunctional home the boy shares with his mom and her abusive boyfriend. There's plenty of sexual talk, swearing ("f--k," "p-ssy," "s--t"), and some drinking, as well as a few disturbing scenes of shocking violence.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byIceMom007 September 20, 2020

Surprising message

I watched this with my Dad at a young age and it’s one of our favorites. I have now watched it with my 10 and 12 year old and while yes, there is language and... Continue reading
Parent of a 11 and 14-year-old Written byheather.parker November 22, 2012

Awesome movie

This is one of my favorite movies, ever, but definitely not for kids.
Teen, 13 years old Written byclohiltz April 10, 2020

only issue is language

i watched this with my family the other day (i’m 13) and it was amazing!! there’s some strong language but i don’t really find that an issue, kids hear worse th... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old March 15, 2019

Everyone should see this

This is one of my most favorite movies of all time. I saw it with my dad when I was 10. It says the F word 5 times, and no gore. Movie mostly about the relation... Continue reading

What's the story?

Mentally disabled Karl (Billy Bob Thornton, in a stunning performance) is released from a psychiatric hospital after 20 years for killing his mother and her boyfriend and tries to find a place in his small Arkansas hometown. He lands a job repairing engines and befriends 12-year-old Frank, who is regularly terrorized by his mother's lout of a boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). As Karl becomes closer to Frank and his mother, he realized just how dangerous Doyle can be, forcing him to make a fateful decision.

Is it any good?

Thornton is the main event in this film. He won an Oscar for the screenplay and was nominated for another for his amazing turn as a man who clearly can't grasp much of the nuances of the world but is well aware of his limitations. Despite the violent crime he committed as a 12-year-old boy, the adult Karl is a gentle giant who is happy just to be able to shop for toothpaste and eat at a diner. He clearly identifies with Frank, and begins to feel protective as Doyle becomes more and more of an abusive threat.

But don't mistake Karl's quiet and gentle exterior for either stupidity or passiveness. He may not understand everything that's happening around him, but he certainly grasps enough to see that Frank and his mom need some help. And while his violent nature hasn't been seen in 20 years, when he decides to act, he's capable of making some surprisingly calculated decisions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Karl's decision. Did he do the right thing? Can his action be justified? Was it the act of a mentally disabled person, or was it a very wise and selfless choice.

  • How are mentally disabled peopel generally portrayed in the media? Is this a unique depiction, or does it rely on stereotypes?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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