This first, magnificent, outpouring of the sporadic genius of cinema’s equivalent to JD Salinger, Terrence Malick, still seems terrifically modern. That’s partly down to the career-best performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as garbage-collector Kit and naive schoolgirl Holly (who narrates), the misfit young couple who, like savage innocents, create a brief idyll and end up leaving a trail of blood through the unforgiving Montana badlands.
A film of ‘visionary realism’, based on a real-life couple-on-the-run murder spree from the ’50s, ‘Badlands’ is as psychologically precise as it is splendidly visually observant. But it also exudes a timeless, mythical and tragic quality which is all the more remarkable for the languorous ease with which its story unfolds.
Infused with an uncharacterisable romanticism, and employing one of the most entrancing uses of soundtrack music – from the honey voice of Nat King Cole to the jaunty yet haunting xylophone of George Aliceson Tipton – since Pasolini’s ‘Gospel According to St Matthew’, it’s a challengingly non-judgmental work which lulls the viewer into a sublime state of false security, the better to deliver a stunning but gentle essay on freedom and necessity, life and death.