If Badlands is anything to go by, then Terrence Malick is one of the most overrated directors in cinema, having completed only five pictures, but with critical and cineaste acclaim deserved only of the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg and Hitchcock. Though I haven’t yet seen Days of Heaven, the New World or the Tree of Life (though Days is on the list, and I live in a great deal of hope that I am proved incorrect), from what I have seen of Badlands and the Thin Red Line, I’m guessing they are mostly comprised of a philosophical narration, ruminating on the nature of life, set over a thrown together, meandering plot shot almost entirely at sunset. Whilst I appreciate Line in spite of these things, it was more for the ensemble cast, wartime setting and stunning cinematography that I am willing to endure its occasional pontificating on the ways of the world. Badlands, however, has little to offer save excellent early performances from Sissy Spacek and the legendary Martin Sheen, playing characters based on 1950s killers Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate, themselves inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. Sheen is Kit Carruthers, a garbage man with dreams of being a James Dean-lookalike outlaw. He meets Spacek’s Holly and, when her father shoots her dog when she lies to him, Kit kills him and hides him in the basement, which to be honest Holly takes rather well. This begins a killing spree as the pair run from the pursuing authorities and try to set up a life on their own, away from the world. Holly’s narration is infuriatingly sparse, as instead of detailing why they are doing what they are, we are simply told “The reasons are obvious, I don’t have time to go into them right now.” Much of the film is symbolic in a way that doesn’t hold up when you think about it – a man ringing a bell to call his deaf maid, a suicide message left on a record player next to a house fire that will undoubtedly engulf it – and I really cannot fathom why this film has garnered such a reputation as being more than a film, but a work of art. I’m not ashamed to admit that I much prefer Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone’s take on a similar story with the same influence (also on the list), as that at least has identifiable characters, justified (if not condoned) actions and innovative style. Badlands seems just about a deluded man running away with a teenage girl, killing everyone they meet just so he can become famous and be shot down with a girl by his side to scream out his name.
Choose life 6/10