Whenever anything, but particularly a film or filmmaker, is hyped at me for an extended period of time, I grow weary of it before I’ve even experienced it. I assume that whatever it is won’t live up to everyone else’s constant praise, because everyone else is stupid. I know. I’m a pretentious dick.
This is essentially what happened to me with Terrence Malick, who seems to be on every movielover’s mind these days with the release of his new film (which I haven’t seen yet, but will soonish). So I figured I might as well watch one of his movies and Badlands seemed as good a place as any to start. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows young lovers Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) on an impromptu killing spree through the northern midwest. Narrating with a dreamy aloofness, Holly recounts their romance and lengthy attempt to hide from the law.
“Dreamy aloofness” is probably how I could describe everything about this movie. Holly is almost clinical in her discussion of Kit’s crimes, which she coolly observes and rarely comments on, content to simply pal around and attempt to act beyond her years. Kit rambles on with an easygoing frankness, sometimes defending his personal philosophy and sometimes just spewing aw-shucks nonsense. The murders themselves usually happen without warning, and there’s little lingering. Malick allows endless prairie landscape and nervous conversations to fill in the gap between deaths, never explicitly dealing with the horrors the audience has witnessed. While it’s clear that Kit is an unhinged killer, he’s not really painted in a bad light, with understandable (sort of) intentions motivating his actions. Holly’s biggest crime is her passivity, never inveighing against Kit for what he’s doing and seemingly never making up her own mind as to whether or not she’s ok with it.
I liked Badlands a lot- it’s got a strong cast (including Warren Oates for like 5 minutes!), lovely cinematography, and naturally fascinating source material. I can see the appeal of a slightly dreamlike, removed look at a real-life killing spree, though it definitely romanticizes the couple. The distance Malick puts between the characters onscreen and his audience is at times too large a space to breach, and the mood didn’t quite work for me. I know it’s his first feature, and I’m looking forward to seeing Tree of Life this week and checking out one or two of his other films, but I guess I still don’t get the obsessive adoration for Malick yet. Badlands is a really good movie, but it doesn’t stand out to me in any special way.
Pair This Movie With: Of course, there are several other films inspired by the same story, including Natural Born Killers and True Romance, but I would pair this with Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, which features Jake Busey as a homicidal ghost driven to beat Charles Starkweather’s victim count with the help of his girlfriend.