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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: November 27, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 1998
- Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, John Ritter
- Director: Billy Bob Thornton
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 134 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong language, including descriptions of violent and sexual behavior
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.