Banjo music plays during car chases when the gang of Bonnie and Clyde get away, the only soundtrack we hear in the film. The film doesn’t romanticize through diagetic music, the gang’s ups and downs portrayed through a consistent tone.
The gang drive by the countryside too quickly, or cut often towards close-ups. The film’s briskness still allow us to experience great images, slowing it down would only call attention to its Academy Award-winning cinematography too much. Images like during nighttime on highways, the only source of light are the headlights from the car. The interiors of the cars are well-lit, but outside they’re plunged into darkness, surrounded by the insufficient infrastructure, alone in their journey’s last legs.
Or when the gang visits Bonnie Parker’s (Faye Dunaway) family, the yellow earth of that country under sunny haze. The film’s most manicured moments are here, the clouds looking too light. Bonnie breaks the scene’s dreamlike essence, feeling disconnect between her, her senile mother, and her shortsighted boyfriend Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty).
The actors don’t deliver lines like those in earlier gangster films, realistically sounding like hicks instead. Most of the actors exclaim their raspy Southern accents, mostly during good times, but the dialogue’s just as energetic and quick during the film’s denouement.
The gang aren’t Robin Hood, nor am I attracted to them in the Manichean sense. They don’t seem evil, even with the cop killing, infighting and how they narcissistically take pictures of themselves. The characters behave like ones in early Godard films, impulsively childlike, dressing up and chasing their victims, toting their guns.
The film’s doesn’t view them as neither good nor evil. The newspapers portray them as curiosities instead of hunted criminals. The bankers they rob hog the camera just like the gang. A couple (one half of which is Gene Wilder) rides along even if the gang steals their car. The rural sprawl causes plurality of reactions towards the gang, equally creating both fans, onlookers or snitches.
The ‘good guys’ don’t live up to their labels, as Texas Ranger Hamer goes to Missouri hunt for the gang for bounty money instead of protecting people from his own jurisdiction, his quest for them eventually rooted on revenge and not on trying to do good.
The characters often think of the couple’s death. The farmer in the bank promised to order them flowers at their funeral, a morbid way of saying thanks. Bonnie poeticizes their martyrdom. We know how this film’s going to end but not its specifics, a few close-ups of the couple followed by a wordless shootout, without lyricism, a brutal defeat portrayed in twenty seconds.
Waitress shows pie maker Jenna’s (Keri Russell) unhappy, unique life and family through filters of both comedy and tragedy. I understand that the decision to portray such a life might repel some viewers, but both can coexist is life and it makes sense for both to harmoniously coexist within the same film. The kooky cast of characters entering and exiting Jenna’s hospital room, no matter how set-up it is, has the same emotional gravity as the scene when Jenna’s husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto), hits her in his car, discovering her plan to run away from him.
The little sociologist within me has seen within this movie the trials of a woman in her situation. The long times in rural areas to wait for a bus to either get to or from work – in so-obvious studio set pieces, nonetheless – or to get away from an abusive husband. Possibilities that a double-income partnership may still be in danger of the man controlling the money and the woman having to hide money all over the house. Resenting her unborn child. Justifications in being disloyal in loveless marriages and having affairs clumsy guys like Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Too real for some people who will be watching this movie.
The film also shows the beginning of the cycle through Jenna’s coworker, Dawn (Adrienne Shelley) and the latter’s persistent admirer, Ogie. He courts her through phone calls and visits to the pie place where they work, and declares that he won’t stop until she says yes. I don’t know if I’m the only one who did a face-palm when she relents. Ogie’s presented in the movie as a gentle soul with his terrible poetry, and pardon the meanness, but he looks more like a beggar than a chooser, so we know he’ll be forever grateful. However, Jenna also talks about how Earl has changed, which makes Dawn and Ogie’s early stages of love seem more suspect.
Don’t, however, forget the comedy. This movie depicts people – as a T.S. Eliot expert on my iPod has said – who either don’t write or can’t write or won’t write. They deal with their neurotic doctors and business owners their own way. Not every abused wife lives like a LifeTime TV movie nor centres her life on her husband. Women like her may have other people in their lives. Adrienne Shelley, who also wrote and directed the film, must have dug into a nice place in conjuring these characters. Sadly, we’ll never know where.
The male characters in the Southern small-town setting of Sling Blade are different yet the same. Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow-witted man who’s out from the ‘nervous hospital’ after being there for twenty-five years. His friend Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) is just a boy – he reads books but we never see him go to school in most of the film. Their friend Vaughn is an owner of a stable dollar store, his homosexuality an open secret to the small community that is ambivalent in accepting him. Frank’s mother’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) is an abusive alcoholic who has aspirations in the music business.
Frank’s mother defends Doyle by saying that ‘he’s had a hard life,’ a statement that applies to all four guys. Specifically, in the first three examples, they have shitty father figures. With the ‘same difference’ that these four guys have, the film paints a social pattern. This movie is only a public service announcement for those who will see most movies that way. What separates this fictional community from lesser movies is that it doesn’t ask for outside help and takes care of its own problems.
Or that Thornton, also the movie’s director, didn’t choose to portray the plot points by changing the tone of the movie through non-diagetic music or heavy editing. What happens in the movie gets normalized through long takes, etc. It’s strange when Karl and Frank talk about something that is bound to happen again. I’m not sure if that prepares me as an audience. What happens, nonetheless, is still shocking when I finally see it.
The performances of the two leads, Thornton and Black, are an acquired taste, arguably dated, but I got used to them eventually. For Thornton’s Karl, there’s mannerisms, check. Catch phrase, check. And we’ve had a lot of ‘special’ male characters in that decade. Forrest Gump, Leo in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Geoffrey Rush in Shine. With any character like Karl, it takes a lot of commitment to be entrenched in a character like that and it’s hard to judge choices like his. And Black at first seems less animated for an abused child, but the one scene in the climax proved that I spoke against him too early. He was just getting warmed up.