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
Of the film's two lead stars, actress Sissy Spacek was cast first before actor Martin Sheen' came on board, with Sheen first perceived as being too old for the character he would portray. See more »
A camera's shadow falls on Kit's back when Father and Holly find Kit in the house. See more »
[voice over narration]
My Mother died 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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Based on the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of the 1950's, this film follows 15 year old Holly Sargis as her quiet, small town existence is changed when she is approached by the 25 year old Kit Carruthers. The pair get friendly as they take walks together but Holly has to keep it a secret from her father, knowing he will disapprove. When her father finds out he shoots her dog as punishment but neither Holly nor Kit are dissuaded from being together. Kit decides to leave town and take Holly with him, when her father tries to stop him he kills him and heads off on the run.
Although on the surface this sounds like a lovers-on-the-run film with a serial killer edge, Malick's writing and direction prevents it from just being what you expect as he delivers a memorable debut. I first saw this about 15 years about when I was about 13 or 14 and at the time I only remembered that not a lot happened and that I was quite bored, so I can appreciate why some viewers don't find this to their tastes. Watching it again the other day I found it much more interesting, perhaps because I am older or maybe because I wasn't paying attention the first time. The film is slow but it is very interesting because of the characters that Malick has written and then allowed to develop out over the film. On one side we have the cold Kit who is a cold killer on one hand but breaks into a smile at comparisons with James Dean and the chance of fame. It has been done loads since but the look at the fame-hungry killer here still feels fresh.
On the other side of the story is Holly. As narrator a lot of weigh is put on her but the way it is done she is more than just a story teller. While the on screen action tells us about Kit, Holly's narration says a lot about her mind. Her fairytale, sing-song delivery and dialogue contrasts really well with the cold, unromantic violence on the screen. Her denial and desire to explain it all away is clear but not forced down the viewer's throat. The cast respond well to the direction and both give restrained but strong performances, avoiding showboating or pushing too hard. Sheen is strong, holding back for the majority and coming out at the end. Spacek is the heart of the story and her innocent (or naïve) character is played well both on screen as well as in her narration. Malick's direction is patient and as dry as the violence. The scenes are blessed with an open (empty) feel thanks to the impressive cinematography.
Overall this is a slow film that is fairly empty if viewed on a superficial level just looking at the narrative. However the characters and the examination of their mindsets is what makes the film interesting and Sheen and Spacek both react well to that. It also helps that Malick has done a great job as writer and director while his cinematographers have produced a barren and pointless landscape to match the heartless and pointless killings.
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