Anyone who’s ever been in the presence of Billy Bob Thornton will tell you of his hypnotic qualities. He moves lazily. He talks in lullaby. The man is human Xanax. Those who still can’t figure out what the hell Angie was ever doing with him just haven’t met him yet.
What so charms in person, though, can be frustrating in print, his stories frequently starting strong and then sort of forgetting where they were going in the first place. He is fascinating on the “geometrical configurations in my head” that fuel the obsessive-compulsive disorder he’s too often ridiculed for. But poor on Hollywood dirt. Most likely down to his bugbear of being labelled an actor-turned musician, “when actually it was always the other way around”, his coverage of each is disproportionate. Things that could fascinate seem maddeningly normal to him — not least his mother’s powers that he turned into his script for The Gift, which he throws away with a simple, “It’s based on my mom, who is a psychic.”
But, as his best movies attest, nostalgia is where Thornton thrives. Ironic, really, but so colourfully drawn are his childhood memories, they practically read in sepia. There’s the “Porky’s incident” where he gets an erection in front of algebra class. The mushrooms. The disastrous dates. The neighbour who “fucked another guy’s turkey to death”. The dad who beat him. The great-great-great uncle who “had his nuts shot off”. The crazy uncle who “was married like six times or something, and he always married chicks who could play base”. Light on detail he may be, but he’s belting on mood, and nothing if not a true enigma. Or, as Jolie herself has it in her warm intro: “He hates Komodo dragons, and even reading this he will shiver at the name. There was one incident... hard to explain. Can’t really.”
Reviewed by Mark Dinning