Staff Recommendation/ Badlands

Cornerhouse Front of House Manager Marshall Trower reviews Badlands

Terrence Malik’s first feature film Badlands (1973) is a part true-story whose plot concerns a young couple who go on a murderous rampage across the wilds of Midwest America. The unusual thing about Badlands is that, whilst the phrase “a murderous rampage” gives a correct summary of the plot, this definition somehow feels inappropriate, and like most Malik films, Badlands is greater in scope than its plot suggests.

Both Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are perfect in their roles; both actors imbue their characters with an almost childlike detachment from the severity of their actions. Kit (Martin Sheen) is desensitised to violence and always offers a logical reason (in his mind, at least) for his acts. With the exception of Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast (2004) Martin Sheen’s Kit is one of the scariest characters I have seen on film. It’s as though he’s a boy trapped in the body of a man who just happens to be carrying a gun. In Malick’s own words, Kit is “so desensitized that [he] can regard the gun with which he shoots people as a kind of magic wand that eliminates small nuisances”. Spacek’s Holly is equally as childlike and is oblivious to the events going on around her. As with Malick’s later films, he uses a naïvely-minded narrator (this time, it’s Holly) in Badlands. Holly’s lack of understanding of the gravity of her situation, and her own thoughts on her relationship with Kit, come across superbly in her childlike narration. A special mention should also be given to Warren Oates who plays Holly’s father. Oats is a great American character actor who, if you pursue, offers great reward.

As with any Malick film, it is difficult not to mention the cinematography which, in Badlands, is stunning. Visually, the film is deliberately very empty and for the most part the characters occupy wasteland or deserts. Instead of relying on objects to fill the screen, Malick uses depth of field wonderfully. Although Badlands is set in 1950s America, the film also retains a timeless and dream like quality.

Finally, this is the only feature film Terrence Malick has made which he also acts in. See if you can spot him…