- 1 hr 35 min
Badlands is a 1973 crime drama directed by Terrence Malick, starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates. The film is loosely based on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in the late 1950s. The story is told through the perspective of Spacek's character, Holly, a sheltered adolescent who falls in love with Sheen's character, Kit, a young garbage collector with a passion for James Dean and Elvis Presley. After Holly's father disapproves of their relationship, Kit kills him, and the couple sets off on a cross-country crime spree, leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. The film is notable for its stunning cinematography, which captures the beauty of the American Midwest even as its characters commit heinous acts of violence. Malick frames shots in expansive landscapes and juxtaposes them with tight close-ups, creating a sense of intimacy with the characters even as they behave reprehensibly. In addition, Malick's use of voiceover narration by Spacek adds a dreamlike quality to the film, underscoring the idea that the events onscreen are part of Holly's personal mythology. Sheen and Spacek both give standout performances. Sheen, in particular, captures the dichotomy of Kit's character, playing him as both vulnerable and dangerous. Spacek, meanwhile, infuses Holly with a mixture of naivete and cunning that is both compelling and unsettling. Warren Oates, as the detective on Kit and Holly's trail, also gives a memorable turn as a man whose own sense of morality is challenged by the couple's actions. Despite its subject matter, Badlands is not a typical crime movie. Malick's direction and David Gehrton's screenplay subvert genre conventions by offering a complex portrait of Kit and Holly's relationship, one that is equal parts romantic, familial, and destructive. As such, the film is less concerned with the mechanics of their crimes than with the psychological and emotional motivations that drive them. At its core, Badlands is a meditation on the allure of violence and the destructive power of love. Its characters are not archetypes or caricatures but fully realized individuals whose actions are, for better or worse, a product of their environment and circumstances. Through its stunning visuals, poetic narration, and nuanced performances, the film offers a haunting, unforgettable portrait of two people who, in their own way, seek to escape the constraints of everyday life, even if it means leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. For anyone looking for a powerful and thought-provoking crime drama, Badlands is a must-see film that continues to resonate nearly fifty years after its release.