By S. Jhoanna Robledo,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Intense family drama with strong language, some violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some graphic discussions about sex, and one character who is mocked for being gay.
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Some swearing, including "s--t," "f--k," "p-ssy," and "ass." Also, several graphic descriptions of sexual encounters.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Several characters drink regularly and a few turn out to be very unpleasant drunks.
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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.
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Where to Watch
Based on 3 parent reviews
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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
- Inclusion Information: Indigenous directors, Indigenous actors
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 134 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong language, including descriptions of violent and sexual behavior
- Award: Academy Award
- Last updated: March 2, 2022
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