This is an amazing directorial debut, as the film works on so many fronts. It is both a love story and a crime drama, with sneak peaks at what makes the two main protagonists tick. It remains for the audience to decide who is the more chilling and disturbed of the two characters, twenty five year old Kit (Martin Sheen) or fifteen year old Holly (Sissy Spacek).
This is a film in which two unlikely characters become lovers. Kit, a James Dean-like loser, espies the fresh-faced Holly twirling her baton one day and is smitten. He approaches her and, despite her initial reluctance, she begins to see him against her protective father's wishes. Kit is ten years older than Holly, a high school drop out from the wrong side of the tracks, who is unable to maintain a job and appears to have a limited future. He falls in love with Holly and wants her to be his exclusively. Eventually, they become lovers. While it is Kit who does all the actual killing, it is, to my mind, Holly who is the more complex and frightening character. Her prosaic and banal conversation, as well as a lack of empathy in the most heinous and disturbing of circumstances, is most unsettling. This is reinforced in the film through a voiced-over, almost toneless, detached narration by Holly of the events that took place. It is a masterpiece of point and counterpoint, chilling in its very telling and understated irony. When they are eventually caught, Holly remains impassive, while Kit relishes his celebrity and oozes charm, winning over his captors. Martin Sheen's performance is nothing short of brilliant, while Sissy Spacek is mesmerizing with her ability to chill the viewer.
This is an expertly crafted film with an ingenious use of music. The director even manages to utilize the music of Erik Satie (Gymnopedies 3) most effectively, however unlikely it may seem. Like the music of Erik Satie, the film is multi-textured and deceptively complex. Bravo!
on 6 July 2003
"Badlands" was a product of early 1970s American Cinema when directors dared to challenge the Hollywood moralising ethic. That said, that is resolutely not a museum piece. It is simply one of the greatest movies, road or otherwise, I have ever seen.
Sissy Spacek and especially Martin Sheen given the performances of their careers. So much is conveyed by the dialogue, sparse though it may be. Every sentence Sheen utters is at once profound, inconsequential, natural and stylised but, above all, engrossing.
The film is beautifully shot and the DVD transfer does justice to the cinematography, giving a sense of the scale of the landscape through which Kit and Holly drive on the run. Sissy Spacek's voice over gives the story a perspective in the way that the commentary in Y Tu Mama Tambien was to do nearly 30 years later.
However, the film's greatest achievement is the soundtrack. The predominance of Carl Orff and Eric Satie seems initally at odds with the setting and subject matter of the film but it complements the uniqueness of Malick's approach and amplifies the visual beauty of the film. And when Kit and Holly dance to Nat King Cole's "The Dream Has Ended", the transience of the young lovers' freedom is all too palpable.
This is a film to return to again and again.
Badlands is written and directed by Terrence Malick. It stars Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Ramon Bieri and Warren Oats. Music is by George Tipton and James Taylor and cinematography by Tak Fujimoto, Steven Larner and Brian Probyn.
Badlands seems to be adored by critics, often being coined as one of the best debuts ever made by a director. Maybe based loosely on the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of 1958, though the makers have been at pains to ensure we know this is a case of all the characters and situations being fictional, Badlands does indeed have impressive strands. It's a gorgeous picture visually, the surreal feel that is sometimes garnered by Malick in the narrative gives the piece a haunted edge and Spacek and Sheen are very good given the characters they are asked to play.
However, Malick's commentary on amoral youth of 50s America, a corruption of innocence, alienation and etc, never has the depth, to my mind, to really be as special as so many say it is. Some argue the sketchy motives and reasonings involving Kit and Holly are deliberately thought provoking, I'd argue that devoid of psychological meat they are dull characters only livened by the actors' performances. Holly's narration is a clever device by Malick, serving to keep us interested since the structure of the film is repetitious, where being in the company of Kit and Holly becomes a chore. And lets not get onto credibility either...
I know I'm in the minority, but three times I have tried to grasp this supposed genius in Badlands, and I just don't see it. There's a myth and mysticism that has been attributed to it, even enhanced as the years have rolled by, but where there is undoubtedly beauty on the surface, down below there is no beast. 6/10
It was certainly a 'big idea’ that Terrence Malick had with this 1973 debut film – take a Bonnie and Clyde-like premise (i.e. that of a couple involved in seemingly 'senseless killing’) and imbue it with a dream-like, poetic sensibility (Malick’s trademark now, of course) plus a dose of dark humour, to give us one of the most innovative Hollywood screen debuts in years. Critically, his central pairing of Martin Sheen’s vain, waster (and ambivalent James Dean-lookalike rebel) Kit and (particularly), Sissy Spacek’s naïve, besotted 15-year old, Holly, (whose haunting Southern USA voiceover is a highlight) are perfectly cast as impetuous 'lovers’, who embark on a killing spree, taking them from South Dakota to Montana’s 'badlands’. Interestingly, Holly’s idiosyncratic voiceover calls to my mind the ambience of the southern gothic literature of Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Donna Tartt (and Malick does a great job evoking the feel of 'innocent’ small-town America at the start of the film), however, her pairing with Kit actually had me thinking more of the 'Brit equivalent’ of Pinkie and Rose from Brighton Rock (albeit Kit here lacks Pinkie’s level of self-determination and ambition).
The other particularly memorable feature of Malick’s film (indeed, of all his films) is, of course, its sensorial qualities, from his obsession with putting us in touch with nature (some stunning cinematography by Tak Fujimoto and Stevan Larner of flora, fauna and landscapes) through to the film’s haunting soundtrack (particularly Orff’s Gassenhauer theme). Malick also uses the film’s beauty and homespun qualities to contrast with Kit’s detached disregard for human life (and Holly’s apparent 'innocence’ from such concerns) – an eliciting of audience sympathy further played up by Holly’s quoting of Kit’s distorted morality and justification for the killings. Of course, in the end, despite dancing cheek-to-cheek to the tones of Nat King Cole and getting caught up (‘living the legend’) in the celebrity of their actions, we’ve known all along (Holly’s early voiceover signposts it) that the pair’s fate is sealed, but not before Malick provides us with an ironic spot of public hero worship for a cocky and ‘ever-respectful’ Kit.
It's a quite watchable crime film, inspired by real events - but honestly, I couldn't really find anything particularly extraordinary in it. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
The inspiration for this film was the real case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate who murdered eleven people between 30 November 1957 and their arrestation on 29 January 1958. When arrested, Starkweather was 20 years old but Caril Ann Fugate was barely 14 years old... Starkweather was sentenced to death and executed - Fugate was sentenced to life in prison, but she was paroled after 17 years. Other than "Badlands", this strange and horrible couple inspired also the film "Natural Born Killers"...
"Badlands" was clearly inspired by Starkweather-Fugate murder spree, but there are also great differences. The main protagonist, Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), is older than Starkweather (he is 25) and it is stressed that he is very good looking and popular (which was DEFINITELY not the case of Starkweater). His girlfriend, Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek), is 15 and unlike Caril Ann Fugate she actually doesn't actively participate in the murders (which has influence on her final fate). Also, unlike Fugate who lived in a regular, normally functionning family, with both her parents and a baby sister, Holly lives only with her father (Warren Oates), who is shown as a particularly nasty character...
The story is tragic and sad and the film is well made, no argument there, but I couldn't find any particular greatness in it. If anything, I was a little bit bothered by the sympathy shown by the director to Kit Carruthers, who in my modest opinion didn't deserve any. He is, after all, a 25 years old fully grown man who, with his looks and wits, could have any woman he wants, but who instead goes after a CHILD! In fact this whole film is mostly about statutory rape - presented as a beautiful love story!
I mean, what is wrong with this guy!? And then he actually escalates into even worse crimes - but the director doesn't seem to find anything of it very serious... No, in fact the film almost seems to show that those who cross Carruthers path are the ones who are guilty - because they bother him and prevent him from enjoying life... Even the title of this film seems to take away the blame from the killer - it is not him, it is just that in this rural country life is so boring and empty that it actually makes sense to go on killing people who displease you...
The character of Holly on another hand is better and she actually can be seen with some considerable pity. There is something clearly wrong with her, as she doesn't seem to feel anything for the victims of murders and even if she doesn't enjoy sex very much she still follows blindly and obeys without a fuss the man who half-seduced, half-abducted her - but, well, after all she is still a child and a vulnerable one with that, maybe even slightly mentally delayed... Also, she is clearly more than little scared of him ("I wouldn't mess with Kit if I were you, you know? Me, when he says 'frog', I hop...") Sissy Spacek, who was 24 at that time but looked definitely younger, certainly portrayed her very well.
So, all in all, I admit that this is a quite honest, watchable film, definitely less disgusting than "Natural Born Killers", but I really cannot consider this as a masterpiece. For me, it is a film to rent and see once. Which I did.
The film is `very loosely' based on the true story of the 20 year old Charles Starkweather, and his 14 year old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.
In 1957 they murdered 11 people. His charges also included rape, the killing of a 2 year old baby and the slaughter of two dogs. This film's contents are very mild in comparison to what these two actually did!
Sheen was very good as the young, unpredictable and cold killer - as the film tells you, he went to the electric chair. Fugate eventually went down for 17 years! She is now 71 and is at present applying for a pardon, as she has always maintained her innocence regarding the murders.
Whilst it has a bit of a `Wham Bang Thank you Mam' sort of story line, the whole plot is carried along by Sheen's portrayal of this very strange young man's behaviour, his coldness as to the value of human life and the fantasy world in which he obviously lived.
The film is a bit odd because of the detached cold-bloodedness of the killer and the accepting attitude of his dispassionate but immature and naïve girlfriend; nevertheless, it was quite entertaining and an interesting way to spend an hour and a half.
on 28 January 2014
Martin sheen is brillant as a psychopathic drifter in this film based on the exploits of Charles Starkweather.
An absolute acting tour de force.
Sissy Spacek is also fine in her role of Caril Fugate, Starkweather's naive and malleable cohort.
Set in magificent epic scenery, this film is sheer class from start to finish.
Terrence Malick's scintillating directorial debut.
on 28 December 2015
I had the good fortune to see Badlands with the enigmatic Martin Sheen in an Art House Cinema many years ago, and it made a massive impression upon me then. In particular the acting of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek were truly marvelous and highly engaging, and of course the very brilliant screen directing of one of America’s very finest film directors in Terrence Malick – making the film very breathtaking and stunning. If you’re like me and you love Art House Cinema films or films which aren’t popular, then Badlands with Martin Sheen could be for you. Well recommended as superb Cinema at it very best.
Great works of art are very much of their time, but have a relevance and impact long afterwards - and this is a great work of art. A simple story - disfunctional couple on the run, but told with great artistry and 'truth', with actors burdgeoning into great careers, and with much to say about US society, disaffection, and the cult of celebrity killers.
The cinematography is groundbreakingly beautiful, and surely the use of music has never been bettered - this movie sears itself into your brain.
Enthralling, gripping, funny, brutal (death is sad and real and pitiful), and simply a benchmark of US film-making that might never be bettered.
How many DVDs do you watch right through the end credits? I found myself doing this - in awe and contemplation, and because the music is notched up once more and demands to be listened to through to the very last. This is quite deliberate - every detail here is thought right through and infused with cinematic genius.
on 28 February 2015
Entertaining, along the lines of Bonny and Clyde but not quite up with the film with Warren Beaty and Faye Dunnaway. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek go on a killing spree, but Spacek is just a teenager carried along after Sheen kills her father. Not a classic but interesting to see Spacek in a film other than Carrie. A modest, likeable film. Sheen is just crazy. He knows he is doomed and therefore shows no real pity or mercy to anyone he comes across. Spacek is just a lost child.