If you’ve ever wanted to see Billy Bob Thornton simulate masturbation while a naked Englishwoman recites “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” run, don’t walk, to your nearest theater—primarily because Thornton’s misbegotten fourth feature won’t be there long. Set in 1969 rural Alabama, the Sling Blade star’s first outing as writer-director since 2001’s Daddy and Them bundles generational and culture clashes into a story that focuses on the scars, literal and figurative, of combat.
A Great War veteran (Robert Duvall, overacting to the hilt) has three sons (Kevin Bacon, Thornton and Robert Patrick) who fought in WWII and a grandson who is nearly eligible for the Vietnam draft. The death of his ex-wife brings her stuffy British second husband (John Hurt) and family into town, with their own domestic conflicts. It’s a lot to keep track of (even without the title, referring to a morbid sideshow attraction involving the purported car in which the busty star was nearly decapitated), and Thornton never establishes a rhythm that would let him move between stories without it feeling like he’s changing channels on a vintage TV, the dial clunking into place every time he moves on. There’s ambition here, but little in the way of insight or genuine feeling—just a heavy-handed thesis and some extraneous Southern eccentricity.
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