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As far as killers on the loose films go, I have to admit I sort of expected more from Badlands. In a way, it's another of those films that isn't necessarily considered great for its content but more for how other films have tried to emulate it and not come close. However, in this case, I felt it was rather tame in delivery and impact, whereas those I can see have taken its ideas and moved them around have seemed a bit more memorable. If anything, I was almost bored!
Maybe it's unfair to look at it like this, and perhaps it's more about my expectations of a dark and broody film, with Martin Sheen being similar in age to his excellent performance in Apocalypse Now. I think the difference though between his hallucinatory wild man performance there and his destructive and murderous cold calculating youth here is that the film is not delivered with such darkness. It's less broody, and with Sissy Spacek's gentle and innocent voice over giving us a running commentary it sort of presents like a children's bedtime story, although the content most certainly does not reflect that!
Terrence Malick's directorial style is often described as arty. He's certainly an eccentric personality and a man who does what he wants to do with film as opposed to appeasing the demands of the masses. Badlands seeks to take a murderous rampage and make a fairy story out of it. He is even quoted as justifying this attempt by explaining that many children's stories have violence and murder in them, such as Treasure Island. Be that as it may, Badlands is about a teenage girl (Spacek) who runs away with her rebellious twenty-something boyfriend (Sheen) after killing her family in cold blood. The story then sees them rampaging over the Dakota badlands, pursued by the authorities and leaving no one behind to give them up.
You certainly have to focus, and one thing that Malick does is pay attention to detail. Everything fits perfectly in terms of balance and visual delivery, with no errors that I noticed and certainly gaps left wide, gaping or unexplained in the film. If anything, it's the artistic performances from the two leads that leave you a bit mystified as to the point of the film, with the thoughtful commentary from Spacek dumbing down any attempt Sheen makes to make himself seem violent. He comes across less as a violent psychopath and more as someone who thinks that killing people is okay as long as you have a reason you think warrants their death. One such act happens when he has an inkling that someone may give them up to the authorities.
The delivery of the violence is not necessarily tame, but minimalist. Occasionally a film comes along that has a little more reality than Hollywood would have us believe, showing how a gunshot wound doesn't necessarily mean an explosion of blood and guts everywhere. I think that this, coupled with the gentle tones and clear naive innocence of Spacek throughout, make it more tame than I had expected. The film is certainly artistically portrayed, with Malick's style evident from start to finish, but there is little or no action, and it is almost more about the theory of what they're doing, and the psychological process of it, rather than the events themselves. I'm sure I'm in the minority with this viewpoint, but once the credits rolled, I was rather disappointed, having expected more from a film that had been billed up to be amazing.
The direction is good, as is the acting, but the presentation just fell short of what I would have enjoyed. Certainly worth a contemplative watch, but don't expect any blazing entertainment.
RELEASED: 1973, Cert.18
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 95 mins
DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: Terrence Malick
PRODUCERS: Terrence Malick & Edward R Pressman
MUSIC: James Taylor & George Tipton
Martin Sheen as Kit
Cissy Spacek as Holly
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Apparently based on a real event, Badlands is a film about two young people on the run. A fair part of the dialogue of the film is spoken in narrative form by Cissy Spacek, as the story is presented largely from her character Holly's perspective.
Time-wise, Badlands is probably set in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
When refuse-collector and James Dean lookalike Kit spots 15-year-old Holly outside of her house, he befriends her and asks her to go for a walk with him, much to the disapproval of her strict father. Holly agrees to go with Kit, and she quickly develops feelings for him simply because he pays her attention and compliments her, which is something she isn't used to.
After a couple of days, Kit is sacked from his job and decides to break free, insisting that Holly accompany him. At first, Holly is a little unsure but Kit's approach is rather forceful in that he enters her house without permission, goes to her bedroom and packs all her clothes into a suitcase then draws a gun and fires a bullet into her father's head when he tries to intervene. For some reason, despite Kit killing her father, Holly simply does everything he tells her and appears to show no immediate emotion over her father being killed.
The young pair hit the road in Kit's car, with the intention of driving from Holly's South Dakota home up to Montana where they intend to settle down.
That is the basic outline of the plot, and of course, to see more you must watch the film yourself.
Badlands has quite a road movie feel to it and although the story is completely different, it isn't a million miles away in its basic setting to Bonnie & Clyde. For me, there is also a slight similarity to Zabriskie Point. I'm not sure how closely Badlands adheres to the true happenings it is apparently based on, and I have as yet been unable to find significant information about those true events.
I have seen this film quite a few times since its 1973 release, and it never ceases to fascinate me.
Both Cissy Spacek and Martin Sheen as Holly and Kit respectively, play their parts beautifully, especially Sheen. Cast as a good-looking young man who is a strange combination of being a borderline psychopath, yet very resourceful....even philosophical, despite not being all that well educated, Martin Sheen gives a commanding and utterly believable performance. I love the apparent dichotomy in the character of Kit whereby he has no hesitation about being totally trigger-happy and appears to feel no sense of remorse over the murderous crimes he commits, yet on the other hand he really does seem - in his laid-back way - to be genuinely very fond of Holly, and otherwise very easy-going.
Cissy Spacek delivers the character of the shy, unassuming, compliant, rather inadequate Holly with a gentle finesse that I believe would have been hard to beat. It is true that she is particularly skilled at playing this sort of role, but I feel this is her best performance, even outstripping that of 'Carrie'.
Both of the characters of Holly and Kit are extremely believable and although it initially appears that their situation throughout the film oversteps the borderline mark of realism, it in total is actually quite feasible.
Badlands is very rich in mood and atmosphere, making perfect use of clever camera angles, and a wealth of stunning shots across some wild, hostile American countryside. The whole scenario from start to finish is powerfully enhanced by a very unusual, strangely uplifting musical score which is simple, yet homes in on and touches the part of my psyche which is responsible for elation. The music to Badlands would easily stand up on its own without the film, although I'm uncertain as to whether it has been released on album at any time.
Despite Badlands being quite violent, it certainly isn't done in 'slasher' format. If violent content in a film could ever be described as tasteful, then this is it. There is no sensationalism emanating from the film's aggressive acts as the violence is a part of the story rather than being the whole point of it, and the character of Kit has a very easy come easy go attitude towards his actions. The ending is somewhat inevitable, but it's not the sort of film which relies totally or heavily on the storyline.
I don't imagine that Badlands would appeal to everybody, as despite Kit's trigger-happy way of strolling through life, it is quite a laid-back, fairly slow-moving film that concentrates most of its energies on the characters (especially Kit's) rather than the situation and events. However, if you like movies that are a little off-beat and decidedly 'non-Hollywood' in style, then this could be something you'd enjoy. The little offering of advice I'd give to anyone who's never seen Badlands and decides to take the plunge, is.....give it time and allow yourself to be absorbed into the mood, the characters and the accompanying music.
In summary, Badlands is a very well put together, remarkably well-acted and directed film that's a little out of the ordinary and which will need an audience's open-minded attention in order to gain full enjoyment from the viewing experience.
At the time of writing, Badlands can be purchased on Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.95 to £13.99
Used: from £1.75 to £8.33
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
It does appear that Badlands has been uploaded to watch in full on YouTube, until and if it is ever removed for copyright reasons. The film on the site is in 5 parts each lasting 15:01 mins, with a final 3:41 mins long piece which apparently shows the very end of the film and the closing credits. I haven't personally tested the sound quality on this upload and I hope it is good, as it would be a shame to hear all that wonderful music in less than perfect quality. It does appear that the visual quality of the upload is good though. I must mention that I found this film very difficult to locate on YouTube and had to change my search strategy several times, as all I kept getting was clips of Bruce Springsteen's 'Badlands' track - not a bad thing in itself as it's one of The Boss' best, but it wasn't what I was looking for on this particular occasion. Clips/samplers of the film Badlands on YouTube seem few and far between, but they do exist.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Badlands is a strange film when you watch it through the first time, i remember not really knowing what to make of it all, it seemed to be just a lot of senseless violence and murders revolving round a love affair between a young teenager who doesn't really understand what she is doing and a sociopath who cares for nobody but himself and his girl.
But once i really started to analyze this film with repeated viewings i found it all the more bleak and scary - because my initial feelings on the film were indeed correct - and that made it all the more chilling. It is an insight into a guys psychotic life who doesn't really know or understand what he is doing - and if he does he doesn't care, he doesn't really know about the evil that he is committing and because of this the film almost seems to glorify murder and violence but instead its message is to show murder through the eyes of the main protagonist as just being so meaningless and yet remain with the viewer as being so incredibly brutal.
The whole film is just one giant contrast on itself, Martin Sheen's character being so polite, well spoken, patient and good looking and yet masking a very disturbed and derranged individual. The provocative soundtrack that is up beat and happy, the incredible landscapes that are matched with the run down dwellings and the tedious lives of the inhabitants. Yes this film seems completely odd but when watched carefully is incredibly shocking and moving. The most obvious example i can think of being the scene where Sheen's character is in custody and all he can say is that 'It's lucky that fella with the blind maid didn't wind up dead too'
With an incredible performance from both Sheen and Spacek this makes for essential viewing. I just love the way Spacek drools out the voice over as if every murder and act of violence is of no shock to her - even when her father is murdered in front of her! This film is a tribute to the risks that hollywood used to make to send a message to its viewers and is an indisbutable masterpiece.
note: also appears in part on The Student Room
Badlands is a film that has somewhat become rather dilluted and muted because its concept has been copied and re-used so much in other films, not to mention it had been done many years before in films like Jean Luc Godard's Breathless and Bonnie and Clyde. Nevertheless, this is a well crafted film with some really solid performances from two young up and comers - Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.
Holly (Spacek) is a young girl that lives in a rather drab and dilapidated town, and through a combination of boredom and curiosity, she comes across Kit (Sheen), a rebellious greaser who seems to sort of style himself on James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause. He takes her out of her regular, boring life and takes her along on his savage killing spree. What's most disturbing is how Terrence Malick has mastered the art of juxtaposition - Holly sees their retreat as an almost romantic getaway, curiously downplaying the violence as it's such a flavoursome opposition to her terribly boring life. This is juxtaposed with Kit's nihilistic, even psychopathic tendancies, which in of itself is a disturbing and pungent depiction of the existential ennui that occured throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s with the counter-cultural upheaval that occured. Sheen's steely, nuanced performance gives this commentary unrelenting gravitas.
This beautifully shot and competently acted film has served as great inspiration for the likes of True Romance and Natural Born Killers. However, the proliferation of outlaw films in contemporary cinema sullies the film's effect on contemporary audiences, and the social sentiment is largely lost. Recommend | add comment
Atmospheric. Eerie. Chilling. Scary. True. "Badlands" is based upon the real-life episode of terror that reigned in mid-fifties America. The screenplay follows the accounts, but gives the characters different names from their true identities. The real people were Caril Fugate, a young and impressionable teenager, and her boyfriend, an angry young man of the first order, Charles Starkweather. Together they embarked on a killing spree, that also claimed the life of Caril's father, and made themselves part of American folklore. A more recent version of Bonnie & Clyde, if you like. The film does a wonderful job in recreating the surreal atmosphere that must exist in the lives of serial killers, and makes for compelling viewing. To the writers credit, they don't exploit the sensational angle that the story naturally provided them with, and whilst some details have had to be altered to fit the plot, they stay as true as possible to the original motivation for the project. This isn't just some Natural Born Killers movie that preceded the rest, this is a welcome opportunity to view the scenarios without the need for a sickbag in reach. It shocks without the in-yer-face shock tactics that other people have employed in order to get the point across. It's scary enough that this really happened without the gore being thrown in. The film shows how romantic legend can be made from horrific circumstances. Charlie found himself to be treated like some freakish folk hero, whilst America looked a little differently at Caril. Could a young slip of a girl really be willingly involved in the kind of horror that they left in their wake? She was only 14. Did she help him? Did she encourage him? Was she an unwilling captive throughout it all? Charlie Starkweather is played by Martin Sheen and Caril Fugate is played by Sissy Spacek. Their performances are spellbinding. Young they may have been, but there is a
maturity and understanding in their acting that I've rarely seen elsewhere. This is backed up sublimely by the artistic settings and locations that they used for filming, and it all gels together magically. Badlands is a widely rated movie that still seems to hover round Cult level, which is bizarre as it gets played often enough. Well worth seeing if you spot it on your schedules. In fact, tape it and watch it again another time. This is a film that ages well and will stand the test of multiple viewings.
Still one of American cinema's most powerful, daring film-making debuts, Terrence Malick's Badlands is a quirky, visionary psychological and social enigma masquerading as a simple lovers-on-the-run flick. Inspired by the 1958 murders in the cold, stark badlands of South Dakota by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, the film's plot, on the surface, is similar to that of other killing-couple films, like Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy. Martin Sheen, in an understated, sophisticated performance, plays the strange James Dean-like social outcast who falls in love with the naïve Sissy Spacek--and then kills her father when he comes between them. The two flee like animals to the wilderness, until the police arrive and the killing spree begins. What sets the film apart from others of its genre is Malick's complicated approach. Gorgeous, impenetrable images contrast sharply with Spacek's nostalgically artless narration, serving as ironic counterpoints, blurring concrete meaning and stressing that nothing this horrific is simple. Malick observes, rather than analyses, the couple in a manner as detached and apathetic as the couple's shocking actions. No judgment or definitive motivations are offered, though Malick's empathy often leans toward his senseless protagonists, rather than the star-struck society that makes killers famous. Compared with the interchangeable uniform cops who hunt them and the film's other nameless characters stuck in suburban banality, the couple are presented like tarnished, warped andfrustrated results of squelched individuality. Badlands, on one level, views America's suffocating homogeneity and, conversely, its continued obsession with celebrities (individuals considered different but adored) as hypocritical. Ambiguous and bold, the movie hints that society may be as guilty as the killers. --Dave McCoy