1975/Director: Terrence Malick/ Writer: Terrence Malick
Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri, Alan Vint, Gary Little John, John Carter
Terrence Malick has never been a director I cared much for. Since the 1970’2 he has only put out four or five full length films and those are often lauded as masterpieces. I simply could not finish The New World, the John Smith, Pocahontas story with Colin Farrell. It was so excruciatingly dull and long. I liked The Thin Red Line in a general way, but I felt he took a great war novel by James Jones and turned it into the type of thing he is known for, an introspective and meandering view into the conflicts of the human soul. Well, that is all fine but I really wanted an exciting war movie and maybe one that was a little more pro-American than what has been coming out in the last decade or two. Instead there was this transcendental trip into the human psyche that I did not care for and found it a little pretensious. His directing style seems to the complaint a lot of people have with Badlands, that it has lost the impact it once had as a unique film and is in fact boring and plodding (as Malick tends to become). In fact in this case it is the spacey, lazy pacing of the film that appeals to me the most, along with the great performances by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.
Based loosely on the real life killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate across Nebraska and middle America during the late 50,s the film follows the ruthless exploits of Kit and Holly as they roam the badlands of South Dakota and kill most everyone who gets in their path. The Starkweather/Fugate story has been retold many times in film before and after Badlands. It is not a remarkable film especially and yet it seems to stand apart from the other boy/girl killing spree films in that there is not a tinge of humor or optimism in the film. Even the ending with Holly getting parole (contrary to the real Caril Fugate who was still in prison at the time of the movie’s making) does not seem to offer anything uplifting, and in fact the fact she escaped some justice at all seems depressing. The direction and cinematography are slow and colorless. The movie does seem to fall short of what it could have been. But it is the performances by Sheen and Spacek that make this film worth seeing and deserving of a recommendation from the Café.
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Kit Carruthers has had it with dead end jobs and fathers who stand between him and his gal. Holly Sargis seems lack-a-daisical and without rudders as she watches Kit shoot her dad (played by Warren Oats) and then tags along for the ride after he burns their house down. Okay, she did slap him. She voices her confusion and half-hearted disapproval of Kit’s murders but stays in the car seat until the cops corner them a helicopter. Neither seem to care or have any remorse for the people they leave behind them dead, but they do not glorify their deeds either. They seem to see it has doing what had to be done until they were stopped. The killings are cold and sometimes pointless but well acted and filmed.
It is the best of Malick’s films in my opinion and the dreamy, spacey quality that makes distances form his other work is what attracts me to this one. A young and lean Martin Sheen is a killer who is never menacing and Sissy Spacek is excellent as the lost waif with nothing better to do. My review may sound loaded with ambiguity, but to be clear, I likes this film and I will see it again. If you have only seen The New World then please check out Badlands and see what Rhodes scholar Terrence Malick should have continued to do with his film work.
Memorable quotes from Badlands. All quotes from IMDB:
>Kit Carruthers: I’ll give you a dollar if you eat this collie.
>Holly Sargis: At this moment, I didn’t feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you’re sitting there and all the water’s run out of the bathtub.
>Kit Carruthers: You Tired?
>Holly Sargis: Yeah.
>Kit Carruthers: Yeah, you look tired… Listen, honey. when all this is over, I’m going to sit down and buy you a big, thick steak.
>Holly Sargis: I don’t want a steak.
>Kit Carruthers: Well, we’ll see about that… Hey, lookie.
>Holly Sargis: [a while after shot friend Kato] How is he?
>Kit Carruthers: I got him in the stomach.
>Holly Sargis: Is he upset?
>Kit Carruthers: He didn’t say nothing to me about it.
>Holly Sargis: One day, while taking a look at some vistas in Dad’s stereopticon, it hit me that I was just this little girl, born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter, who only had just so many years to live. It sent a chill down my spine and I thought where would I be this very moment, if Kit had never met me? Or killed anybody… this very moment… if my mom had never met my dad… if she had never died. And what’s the man I’ll marry gonna look like? What’s he doing right this minute? Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn’t know me? Does it show on his face? For days afterwards I lived in dread. Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, and this never happened.
>Holly Sargis: [Voiceover] He needed me now more than ever, but something had come between us. I’d stopped even paying attention to him. Instead I sat in the car and read a map and spelled out entire sentences with my tongue on the roof of mouth where nobody could read them.
>Holly Sargis: [Voiceover] Kit and I were taken back to South Dakota. They kept him in solitary, so he didn’t have a chance to get acquainted with the other inmates, though he was sure they’d like him, especially the murderers. Myself, I got off with probation and a lot of nasty looks. Later I married the son of the lawyer who defended me. Kit went to sleep in the courtroom while his confession was being read, and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair. On a warm spring night, six months later, after donating his body to science, he did.
>Kit Carruthers: Sir… Where’d you get that hat?
>Kit Carruthers: Boy, I’d like to buy me one of those.
>Trooper: [the trooper smiles] You’re quite an individual, Kit.
>Kit Carruthers: Think they’ll take that into consideration?
>Kit Carruthers: Hey, I found a toaster.