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November 22, 2015

Badlands (1973)
Director: Terrence Malick
Actors: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates

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Synopsis: In ’50s South Dakota, a teenage girl, Holly (Sissy Spacek) starts seeing an older drifter, Kit (Martin Sheen), and when Kit kills Holly’s father, they embark on a flight to Montana as fugitives….

Review: Terrence Malick may have gone on to direct more transcendent and grandiose works, but his first film, Badlands, might well be the most purely perfect picture he ever made. In fact, it’s one of the most perfect films I’ve seen, period: a masterly exercise in ironic narration, of a director so wholly in command of the rhetoric of his medium, of a narrative melded so mesmerically into the dreamy inner-lives of its lead protagonists and the stark ‘badlands’ landscape of South Dakota and Montana.

It’s a contender for the best-ever use of voiceover in cinema. And this from a director who was to go on to use voiceover in so many other clever and emotional ways: from the myriad perspectives of the anti-war ballad, The Thin Red Line, to the operatic ode to the colonisation of the American continent in The New World. Sissy Spacek’s dreamy, languorous perspective decontextualises and ironises the dark, murderous content of the film so well, and, even Martin Sheen’s unconstructed drifter proves such a bizarre, feckless conduit through this most unusual of ‘Babes in the Wood’ serial killer films.

Even Malick’s musical choices are spot on. From the strange, fairytale intonations of the George Tipton and James Taylor score, to dreamy Nat King Cole séances under the immense open skies of the Great Plains – they are ingenious musical choices to an equally ingenious film. (November 2015)

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