The debut picture of the enigmatic and elusive Terrence Malick, Badlands is the story of romance upon the backdrop of a crime spree the likes of which is so rarely found outside reality, and indeed this is semi-based on a true story. It is much more grounded in reality than Malick’s later introspective, dream-like films, though the poetic touches of storytelling are still here in some fashion; Malick himself stated he wanted the film to play almost like a fairy tale, disconnected from reality. He would achieve this quality in greater forms in his later work, but he still succeeds, mostly through the xylophone music and the lingering cinematography.
This is a crime spree couple that is about as far away from Bonnie and Clyde as you can get. The romantic aspect of Holly and Kit is played up considerably through the film’s buildup, before the violence aspect suddenly explodes onto the screen with the appropriate force of a gunshot. From there, it is a tenuous balance between the two, and as we see the film through the internal monologue of Holly, it seems inevitable that the weight will begin to tip from one side of the scale to the other. Really, the two spend most of their time playing around and living a normal life of a couple on the run from the rest of their lives, rather than going on a murder spree or robbery. Really, it is Kit that is the loose cannon, doing what he must to protect his way of life and to do what he feels he wants to do. More than anything, Malick knows how to use his camera; he keeps it still when it should be still, manic when it needs to be manic, and always deliberately placed and oriented for maximum effect. This is why I am such a fan of Malick, is the deft way he handles the camera, using it in ways we never would’ve thought to achieve the effect he wants.
I’m a big fan of Malick’s later work, so I was expecting to like this a lot. As it turns out, I was semi-right; I liked it, but that was it. It didn’t have the grandeur of what I felt was a typical Malick film; whether this is attributable to it being his debut and/or merely an early work remains to be seen, as I have yet to see Days of Heaven as well. Still, I did like this one; it shows a lot of promise for the future director-to-be, and I can only hope my early film work is of this caliber. A small hope, however, but one that, as both a fan of film and wannabe filmmaker myself, I can still attempt to aspire to, and Malick is definitely a director to aspire to.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10