Badlands

I had hoped for more
★★★
☆
Released: 
1973
Director: 
Terrence Malick
Starring: 
Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri
The Setup: 
A young couple go on a crime and killing spree.
Discussion: 

I watched this movie quite a few months ago now, and for some reason it has just fallen through the cracks until now. I am a big Terrence Malick fan, having first seen The Thin Red Line and liking it, then seeing Days of Heaven and LOVING it, and, as part of my preparation to see The New World, thought I’d check this one out.

This one is his first movie, about a young couple on the run from the law. The incomparable Sissy Spacek [before Carrie, even] plays a young girl in the plains who gets a jones for Martin Sheen, mainly because he looks like James Dean. It’s not long before they’re together, but Sissy’s father doesn’t like Martin, so Martin shoots him and burns down the house, and the two of them go on the run.

As is usually the case with Malick, it’s far less exciting than it sounds. This movie has been said to be in the same mold as Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers, but what’s different here is that neither of the characters really set out to perform any crime, they are just sociopaths who find themselves in situations that they find they need to use violence to get out of. The vast majority of the movie is made up of them riding, chatting, and bickering.

I guess I was expecting more. You get your typical Malick mainstays—gorgeous photography, long, slow, lyrical scenes, and an appealing plainness and spare quality throughout. And while it’s good, one definitely senses that this is an earlier film than his others. It just—for me—didn’t come to all that much, or leave me with all that much.

It’s a bit like when you start really liking a band a few albums into their career, and you go out and get the very first album, hoping that it’ll be a work of hidden genius that presages all that’s to come, only to find that they hadn’t really pulled it together by that point and, much as you may try to like it, it’s just not as good as their later works.

Which still may be a hundred times better than another writer/director, but still…

Should you watch it: 

Yes, if you’ve seen all the other Malicks. If not, I would start with Days of Heaven of The Thin Red Line.

RELATED MOVIES :
DAYS OF HEAVEN is a gorgeous movie both photographically and story-wise, and is one of my favorite films ever.
THE THIN RED LINE Is Malick’s big war movie, and was very good, although I don’t remember much about it except long shots of waving grass. Oh yeah, and that coconut.
THE NEW WORLD is Malick’s most accessible movie, but is still stupifyingly wonderful, telling the story of John Smith and Pocahontas.