Badlands ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


Just one of the many films on my list of 140 that I'm embarrassed at not having seen, watching this forty years after the fact its resonance and influence are obvious.

While parts of it are recognisably Malick in their slow, dreamy pace and measured cinematography I was surprised (and impressed) by the taut, lean narrative. Once Kit's fired his first shot he and Holly are hurtling towards disaster with barely a backwards glance and the film follows them closely without once dwelling on the corpses they leave behind (because Kit doesn't).

It did jar slightly that Holly is so impassive and relatively unruffled by the shooting of her father, but in Malick's words "she isn't indifferent about her father's death... she just wouldn't dream of telling you about it. It wouldn't be proper". She's an unreliable narrator, as Malick says "an innocent involved in a drama over [her] head" and her every voice-over segment is laced with dry irony.

The now typically Malick visual style comes to the forefront by the middle of the film, when Kit and Holly maroon themselves in the middle of nowhere like the Swiss Family Robinson and Holly gets a brief taste of her idea of a fairy tale romance.

Sheen is brilliant as Kit, the wannabe James Dean (in fairness, looking the part) who's enigmatic, inscrutable and unpredictable. He's an arbitrary and dangerous anti-hero - vain, charming and, as is made clear in the film's final act, utterly empty. Despite the trail of destruction wrought by Kit and Holly (and their looming, inevitable fate) the sense throughout is one of calm. Kit is the eye of the storm, it's everyone else who's going frantic.