Thursday, May 09, 2013

BADLANDS (1973) - Terrence Malick

You don't think of Terrence Malick as having a sense of humor. I don't anyway. I challenge you to find more than three chuckles in Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line or The New World combined. The man generally takes his sweeping fields of grass very seriously. But Badlands has a nice undercurrent of droll comedy that I'd forgotten about. There's the scene where Sissy Spacek is thoroughly underwhelmed by the experience of losing her virginity and Martin Sheen chooses a large rock to commemorate their coupling, later replacing it with one that's easier to carry. There's the ending where Sheen hob-knobs with local cops, signs autographs and takes pictures all while in cumbersome prison chains. Or the one where he shoots a football point blank so it's easier to bury. You'd think for a moment you're in a Wes Anderson movie (for me, not usually a good thing).

It's a refreshing counterpoint to all the senseless murder, not to mention those beautiful vast fields of browned grass. Story-wise, Badlands always was and still is a little slight for my tastes. There are plenty of killer couples on the run movies before and since that are much more entertaining. It's the dissonance between Sheen's hammy charisma, his sociopathic ease and the serene Tak Fujimoto nature photography that's really the achievement here, a discordance Malick underlines every chance he gets, especially with that maddeningly upbeat Carl Orff score (What is that? A xylophone?!!)

I'm guessing Charles Starkweather was a real fun guy to hang around with...until he shoot you in the chest. I can forgive him for killing the football. But for my man Oates? Not in a million years.

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