It's the late 1950s. Mid-twenty-something Kit is a restless and unfocused young man with a James Dean vibe and swagger which he has heard mentioned about him more than once. Fifteen year old Holly has a somewhat cold relationship with her sign painter father, if only because she is the primary reminder of his wife, who died of pneumonia when Holly was a child. The two meet when Holly and her father move from Texas to the small town where Kit lives, Fort Dupree, South Dakota. They slowly fall in love, something about which she cannot tell her father because of their age difference and Kit coming from the wrong side of the tracks. When he tries to take Holly away with him, Kit, on an impulse, shoots her father dead. After letting the initial emotions of the situation settle down, Holly decides voluntarily to go with Kit, they trying to make it look like they committed suicide in a house fire. But they soon learn that their plan did not work, there being a bounty on their heads. As such,... Written by
He was 25 years old. He combed his hair like James Dean. He was very fastidious. People who littered bothered him. She was 15. She took music lessons and could twirl a baton. She wasn't very popular at school. For awhile they lived together in a tree house. In 1959, she watched while he killed a lot of people. See more »
The Turner Classics Movies article on this film written by Jeff Stafford states: "Badlands (1973) was [Terrence] Malick's feature film debut. Although he had previously worked as a screenwriter (Pocket Money (1972)), he decided to direct his own scripts after Paramount made a complete mess of his Deadhead Miles (1973) screenplay, transforming it into a film so bad it couldn't even be released. With his brother, Chris, Malick managed to raise $300,000 for Badlands (1973)'s pre-production costs. The additional money was raised by independent producer Edward R. Pressman from personal friends like former Xerox chief Max Palevsky". See more »
In a voice-over near the Montana - South Dakota border, Holly says "...at the very edge of the horizon we could make out the gas fires of the refinery at Missoula, while to the south we could see the lights of Cheyenne, a city bigger and grander than I'd ever seen." From anywhere along the border, Missoula would be over 600 miles to the west, and Cheyenne would be some 300 miles to the south; nothing short of a satellite view would allow you to see both at the same time. See more »
[voice over narration]
My Mother dies of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My Father kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral he gave it to the yard man. He tried to act cheerful but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house. Then one day hoping to begin a new life away from the scene of all these memories he moved us from Texas to Port Dupree, South Dakota.
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Meditative view of life, love, and death by Terrence Malick
Badlands, based on the relationship between Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate (and later an inspiration for Tarantino's True Romance and NBK), never has a moment where something un-realistic curries. Writer/producer/director Terence Malick leads his film along with a true emphasis on both the psychological nature of Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek), and with the un-canny knack for a relaxing style in his camera. At best, Badlands is one of the successful homages to European cinema of the 1970's, something that will last a long time due to its pairing of absorbing art-house and (perhaps) mainstream sensibilities. At worst, a viewer could feel bored with Malick's intent on running with his poetic ideas as a director. If there was any pretentiousness at all, it went over my head; this is a film that draws you into its tragic nature.
Sheen and Spacek are totally believable as a couple on the run, as Kit continually has a trigger-happy attitude to people after he shoots Holly's father. While Spacek holds the heart of the picture steady, I'd have to say that Sheen's Kit is one of his best performances. He comes off in the perfect sense- you wouldn't think for a second that Kit could be a killer, that is until he pulls out his pistol. It works just as well that Holly is the narrator, so that the viewer can understand where Kit's coming from, and where he's going. If there is any distance between his character and the audience, there's still a strong, emotional connection through Spacek, and their bond as a loving, if dangerous, couple.
Overall, Badlands is extraordinary in a way that doesn't cram its atmospheric from start to finish on the audience, and it looks at young people in love, however in such twisted circumstances, in an honest way in how escalatory events create a disillusioned feeling in youth. That it's made on such a low budget gives it more merit. Kudos should go to the musical score by James Taylor, Gunild Keetman and George Tipton, too; it's one of the best debuts of the 70's. A+
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