Trouble In The Heartland

Legendary director's bleak early classic continues to gain respect

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Terrence Malick was 29 when he wrote and directed Badlands. From the off, opinions were divided about him. Nobody was denying that he was bright?Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar, former lecturer, he’s easily the most intellectual of the great US directors who emerged in the 1970s. Prior to Badlands, he’d co-scripted the Paul Newman vehicle Pocket Money and directed a short film, Lanton Mills, with backing from the American Film Institute. Key collaborators were convinced that he was a genius and that Badlands would turn out to be a classic. Other crew members weren’t so sure. Several quit during shooting; Malick was a hard taskmaster and?as Martin Sheen recalls?”there just wasn’t money for anything” (the film was independently financed and made on a pittance). Still, as the actor told his mutinous colleagues: “Hang on in there. You’re gonna be real proud of this.”

Badlands is the story of a pair of young killers, inspired by the real-life case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, who’d gone on a killing spree in Nebraska and Wyoming in the late 1950s, leaving 10 people dead. Malick treats his murderous delinquents with extraordinary tenderness. If Kit (Sheen) is a psychopath, he’s a charming one with a James Dean haircut and an engaging sense of self-importance. Holly (Spacek), meanwhile, is a small-town ing

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