Badlands is a uniquely American fairy tale, a romantic account set in the late 1950s of a 15-year-old girl’s journey into violence and out of love with a 25-year-old South Dakota garbageman turned thrill killer. Pic is told through the girl’s eyes as she narrates in dumb Teen Romance style the saga of her hero, a James Dean carbon, who kills her father and whisks her away on a flight into myth that ends in the badlands of Montana.
Written, produced and directed by Terrence Malick, pic is his first feature and it’s an impressive debut.
The killer-lead, played with cunning and charm by Martin Sheen, is a perverse Horatio Alger, a culturally-deprived American boy weaned on James Dean pix who works at his rebel image and achieves success, i.e. notoriety, capture, fame and death.
His girl (Sissy Spacek) is one of those mid-teen catatonics whose life is defined in terms of Hollywood gossip and visions of white knights. Together they litter their escape route with the dead.