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BADLANDS – *****

Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates. US 1973 Certificate: 15 93 minutes

Released by The Criterion Collection and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Blu-Ray on 20th May

 

While his directorial output may have increased in recent years, Terrence Malick remains one of cinema’s least prolific filmmakers. This is in part what fascinates about him, and the re-release of his 1973 debut BADLANDS represents a great opportunity to re-examine the film which first launched his career.

 

While the story of young lovers on the run and a murderous killing spree may be similar to BONNIE AND CLYDE or NATURAL BORN KILLERS, this is a far more poetic and almost aloof feature that examines elements of the American psyche and a beautiful landscape that becomes stained with blood.

 

Martin Sheen is the thematic rebel without a cause Kit, stuck hauling garbage until he meets Sissy Spacek’s timid, naive and somewhat sheltered Holly. Despite the ten-year age-gap they fall for one another before embarking on a literal and metaphorical journey of violence from the small town of Fort Dupree to the vast Montana Badlands of the title.

 

Inspired by, but not based on, actual events, Malick looks into the boredom of the lead characters and a sparse country that seems to offer them little despite its natural beauty resulting in the killings which start to occur. Subsequently in a net starts to close in around the pair which culminates in a car chase scene that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those from BULLIT and THE ITALIAN JOB (the subtle lack of a score during the sequence actually heightens the drama).

The 4K restoration emphasizes the fantastic cinematography while Sheen’s natural charisma carries the story as a perfect counter-point to Spacek’s distant anti-heroine.
It remains a powerful, impressive and disturbing piece of work that has lost little of its impact nearly 50 years later. It may have inspired and influenced many other films, yet it manages to retain its unique look and relevance.

 

EXTRAS: There’s a new documentary ‘Making Badlands’, fresh interviews with editor Billy Weber and producer Edward Pressman and a 1993 T.V. episode of Great Crimes and Trials on Charles Starkweather, upon whom the film was loosely based. The reclusive Malick is predictably absent.

 
Phil Slatter

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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018