Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Five Nights With...Killer Couples: Badlands

So last night was great.  I haven't seen 'Badlands' in years, and it was a nice surprise to still feel the same weight of urgency and surprise of identity as I did the first time.  This is still my favorite Malick film, although a recent viewing of 'The Thin Red Line' has bumped that up a bit in my esteem.  

But really, this is a vastly different film for him, when you consider his filmography, and it stands out to me as one of his deeper character studies, relying less on his cinematographer and more on his own perceptiveness to carry the message of the film to the viewer.

To call ‘Badlands’ a masterpiece may be an understatement.  To be honest, it is such an overwhelmingly good film that I don’t really know what to label it.  It’s a brilliant depiction of youth and celebrity and societal provocation.  What on the outset may appear like just another ‘killing-couple’ film really proves to have the legs to carry it much farther than the genre typically allows. 

Badlands’ was the directorial debut for famed director Terrence Malick.  Malick himself is a visionary filmmaker who stamps his breed of creative juice all over every picture he takes on.  The man is somewhat of a cinematic enigma, but his crystal clear point of view makes films like ‘Badlands’ so instantaneously admirable.  Badlands’, for me, is probably Malick’s most intimate film.  That isn’t to say that ‘Days of Heaven’ or even ‘The New World’ don’t gather at their feet a layer of intimacy (and ‘The New World’ truly tries harder than any of Malick’s other films), but there is a natural intimacy captured within the fractured relaying of events caught on film here.  The gritty use of close-ups and stilled moments create something genuine within the characters on screen, and they latch themselves into the hearts of the audience, despite their atrocious acts of violence.

Badlands’ never condones, yet it never judges either.

The film is a fictionalized retelling of the true story involving a couple who murdered many in South Dakota during the late 50’s.  In Malick’s version, that couple is rebel Kit and the young and naïve Holly.  Kit is quite a bit older than Holly, but she takes a liking to him and eventually allows him to date her despite her daddy’s concerns.  When her father stands in the way of their bond, Kit kills him and then takes Holly on the run.  Their killing spree doesn’t end their, in fact it continues on and on for quite some time, all the while the authorities and media are in a frenzy over the missing couple. 

The films major statement is made in the climax, which carefully yet rather bluntly paints Kit to be a national celebrity.  It’s a sick realization, but it is an astute one.  Now, this concept is not new to the movie-goer.  The idea that the media creates serial killers is not a new one, and it has been discussed time and time again.  What I loved so much about the way that ‘Badlands’ handles the matter is that it really saves that assessment for last.  We are kind of blindsided by the general reaction to Kit, and his overall attitude towards his own crimes comes off like a major shock. 

The real mystery here lies in the eyes of Holly; innocent bystander or malicious contributor?

The performances by both Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are award worthy.  Spacek captures the characters ambiguity rather effortlessly, but for me it is definitely the James Dean-esque marvel that is Martin Sheen who takes the cake in the acting department.  It is such a layered performance, one that takes shape over time, revealing little bits of itself here and there before you understand the entirety of the man.

But like all of Malick’s films, the actors are just another paint color with which he creates his of vision.  Malick is always the star of his own show.

So tonight I'll be watching Oliver Stone's 'Natural Born Killers'.  This is one I haven't seen before, even thought I hear it is one of his best.  I'm sure most of you have seen it, so if you have any reviews you'd like me to link, let me know!  Until tomorrow...


  1. I agree on the performances, and that's a great comparison of Sheen's to James Dean. This is a gorgeous film, and that score! How did it go unnoticed that year?

    I really need to rewatch this. Right now, it's probably my #3 or #4 Malick film behind TTRL and TTOL and maybe DOH. I meant to rewatch a few Malick films earlier this year, but I didn't get to them. Badlands might end up a lot higher once I see it again. :/

    1. I don't always react to Malick like everyone else. This is his only film that I think is a masterpiece, and yet a recent rewatch of TTRL has me considering that could be one as well.

      I really liked Days of Heaven, but it feels more of a visual than an emotional film, and so it has faded from my mind over the years.

      I hated The New World, and then grew to respect it, but I still think it is VERY flawed and underdeveloped, and The Tree of Life, while engaging and provoking, feels like Malick masturbating himself all over the screen. He just doesn't step away from his work sometimes and really ask this working?

  2. Nice review, I especially like what you said about the ending. Badlands is my favourite Malick too. I would love for him to make another film in that vein.

    1. I'd love to see him tackle a darker theme like this one as well!