In Badlands, you get one of the greatest American feature-directorial debuts in history. That’s a grandiose statement, for sure, but we are talking about Terrence Malick here, and the man is a magician behind the camera.
Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of heat for liking all of Malick’s movies. I picked The Tree of Life as the year’s best film a couple of years ago, inspiring many to watch it—and in turn inspiring a lot of hate mail. Malick’s movies are as unorthodox as they come, and are basically poetry in motion. If you hate poetry, and you hate a movie that takes its time, then be careful popping his movies into your player.
I would call this movie one of his more commercial offerings. Martin Sheen stars as Kit, a character based on real-life serial-killer Charles Starkweather. Starkweather and his young girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, went on a killing spree in the late ’50s. Sissy Spacek plays Holly, who is essentially a representation of Fugate.
The film came out in ’73, and immediately established Malick as one-of-a-kind. There’s nothing sensationalistic about his approach. He doesn’t try to explain Kit’s motives, and Holly never really explains why she goes along for the ride. Yet it is entirely clear why Kit is sick, and why Holly doesn’t resist. Malick and the performers leave it to the viewer to figure things out.
This might be the best script Malick has ever written. He’s the rare filmmaker who can use a voiceover and not make it feel like a storytelling copout. (Blade Runner, anyone?) Holly’s VO enhances and beautifies the story, rather than explaining things just because the narrative got confusing.
I had never seen Badlands on anything but crappy TV transfers and sloppy DVDs—and seeing it on Blu-ray in this Criterion Collection release is an absolute revelation. The imagery is as breathtaking as anything ever put to film.
Do I sound like I am over-praising? Just know that this man is one of my favorite directors, and this will always be one of my favorite movies.
Special Features: A nice new documentary features recently conducted interviews with Sheen and Spacek. You also get an older doc on Starkweather, interviews with the editor and producer, and one of those sweet Criterion booklets.