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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Martin Sheen
Sissy Spacek
Warren Oates
Ramon Bieri.
Directors
Terrence Malick.
Screenwriters
Terrence Malick.
Running Time
94 minutes

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Badlands
Terrence Malick's seminal killer-couple-on-the-run movie.


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Plot
A fictionalised account of the Charles Starkweather murders as a quietly psychotic garbageman and his daydreaming girlfriend take to the road after killing her father.


Review
At the heart of Terrence Malick's astonishing debut - a fictionalised account of Charles Starkweather's 1950s killing spree - is a trio of paradoxes.

The film is a meditation on the banality of evil, but features an incredibly handsome and charismatic protagonist in Martin Sheen's psychotically self-deluded garbage man, Kit.

His relationship with lonely schoolgirl Holly (Sissy Spacek) is depicted as disturbing and mutually destructive, yet granted genuinely romantic interludes - including a moonlight smooch to the sound of Nat King Cole.

And the natural world - typically for Malick - is painted as a thing of idyllic beauty, yet constantly corrupted with stark images of dead animals, fallen trees and, of course, the bullet-riddled bodies of Kit's victims.

Such confident complexity is beyond the reach of lesser movies - the superficially similar Bonnie And Clyde feels, well, superficial in comparison. For all the heat generated by that film's blood-spattered shootouts, its stylised brutality pales next to the sudden bouts of violence which occur whenever Kit is backed into a corner.

His sense of Southern good manners - calling his victims "Sir", asking humbly, "Suppose I shot you, how'd that be?" - makes the crimes all the more chilling.

Both central performances are amazing, but only Spacek went on to become one of the most in-demand stars of the '70s. Apocalypse Now aside, Sheen had to wait until becoming a middle-aged character actor before roles worthy of his talent came along. Observant fans of The West Wing, however, may notice that Kit snaps on his denim jacket in the same over-the-shoulder, both-arms-at-once way in which President Bartlet dons a tux.


Extras

Badlands Badlands
Released: 26 May 2003
No sign of the notoriously reclusive Malick, though his two cameos in the film itself are highlighted in a mini documentary.

Interviews with the two stars are warmly anecdotal rather than insightful, with Spacek having particular reason to remember the shoot fondly. It was here she met art director Jack Fisk and, 30 years later, they’re still a couple. True romance indeed.


Verdict
Achingly evocative of a time when Hollywood had the courage to invest in complex and morally ambiguous films and an indisputable masterpiece of American cinema.


Reviewed by Rob Fraser

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Badlands
Empire Star Rating

"I can't deny we've had fun... and that's more than some can say."

At once a compelling meditation on the senselessness of violence and a poignant study of a romance tainted by circumstance, Badlands is a stark and chilling masterpiece that remains among the most spellbinding and subtly moving achievements ever put to celluloid. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 01:38, 12 November 2013 | Report This Post


One hell of a film!

This is American cinema at its best. A really Great Movie! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 20:44, 05 April 2010 | Report This Post


BRILLIANT

Is it just me or is most of "TRUE ROMANCE" ripped from this? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 15:40, 28 November 2007 | Report This Post


A serial killer film that only Malick could deliver, Badlands is a romantic, poetic and contrasting masterclass in mood and atmosphere. Spacek and Sheen are incredible as the strangely apathetic killers, and Sheen's character is one of the finest to ever grace the silver screen. Deluded, iconic and calmly pshcotic, Kit is a fantastic creation and entrancing to watch. Combined with Spacek's disarmingly distant naif, the film is a wondeful interpretation of youth's angst and confusion, and of its ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Grandma Death at 15:10, 25 June 2006 | Report This Post


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