Badlands (1973)

It’s near impossible to watch a Terence Malick film and not get swept away in the man’s fascination with nature. His films, lyrical and delicate, are imbued with childlike wonder, as likely to focus on a flock of birds overhead as the details of the plot machinations motivating his characters. He can evoke nature’s beauty with unmatched talent.

This doesn’t typically make for the most accessible films: a notable exception is his confident debut, Badlands. The film, which follows the story of a young couple (Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen) whose dreamy inarticulateness goes hand-in-hand with a predilection for barely-motivated murder, is certainly the most traditional of his oeuvre, with a relatively straightforward narrative; more a well-written novel than a longform poem. Malick directs the same, slightly quizzical stare towards the couple as he does nature, regarding the pair with a curious interest. There’s little attempt to explain their actions; that’s not Badlands’ goal.

The film is gorgeous, naturally, even if it doesn’t reach the captivating heights of The New World or The Tree of Life. The real highlight here is Sheen’s performance; fitting the easy, sinister charisma of the role, he never feels like he’s acting; he just is.

Rating: 168/200

3 thoughts on “Badlands (1973)

  1. I agree that while this isn’t nearly as captivating as some of Malick’s other work, it is a tremendous film debut from a true master. Sheen crushed it here. It may be my favorite performance of his.

    • Oh, it’s still an excellent film. “Not as good as The Tree of Life or The New World” wasn’t supposed to be too much of a complaint, given the calibre of those films. And, yeah, while Apocalypse Now is one of my favourite films I hadn’t seen a Martin Sheen performance that really blew me away til this film. He really just inhabits the character; it’s so hard to imagine him going on to play a respectable US President years after this!

  2. Pingback: Days of Heaven (1978) | ccpopculture

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