The film stars Martin Sheen as Kit and Sissy Spacek as Holly. The pair fall for each other hard and right away.1 Holly’s father disapproves, which leads to his violent death at Kit’s hands. The pair go on the run, leaving a growing trail of dead people behind them as they try to evade capture.
This was not the first Malick film I’ve seen. That distinction would go to The Thin Red Line, but by the time I got to Badlands (which was not long after), I was an avowed and major fan of his. I find this one fascinating because it doesn’t quite feel like his other films, but you can already see sprinklings of several of his trademarks. The calm voice-over throughout (done in this one by Spacek); the introspective reflection on life, spirituality, and our place in the world; and of course, the beautiful cinematography from a trio of artists: Brian Probyn, Tak Fujimoto, and Stevan Larner. It may still be Malick’s most straightforward film, and therefore, his most accessible. It’s not the first film about star-crossed murderers, but it is one of the most captivating. There’s violence in this film, but it’s perpetrated by someone with such charisma that the pair even seduces the officers and National Guard troops that eventually end up catching them. For me, this is far more captivating than movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma & Louise, or Natural Born Killers.
Be sure to enjoy this video from The Criterion Collection which delves into Malick’s use of voice-over throughout his work. Editor Billy Weber, who did uncredited work for Badlands, discusses Malick’s inspirations and history with this filmmaking tool. 🎞