Written & Directed by Terrence Malick
Small town James Dean wannabe Kit falls for underage beauty Holly, who, at age 15, is at least one decade his junior. Her father doesn't much like it, and although he's a bit of an asshole (he shoots Holly's dog when she disobeys him), I can't really say that I blame him. When he tries to prevent them from seeing each other anymore, ol' Kit Kat guns her old man down and takes Holly with him on the run for a murderous roadtrip. Like if Richard Stark wrote On the Road.
They hide out in the woods for a while, building an improbable Swiss Family Robinson tree house, until the paradise they had created there is interrupted. From there, they ride the backroads, traveling from nowhere to nowhere, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.
Loosely based on the true crime Starkweather killing spree, this crime drama is a straight-forward journey through the starkness (no pun intended) of rural America, lead by Kit but narrated by Holly. What's interesting is that the filmmakers portrayed Kit as a sympathetic and enigmatic character, someone who is personable and easily liked, even by the lawmen who pursue him. This affability doesn't come across as the manipulations of a socipath or a psychotic. In fact, Kit isn't insane at all, and he doesn't even come across as a bad guy--more like a good guy who is trying too hard to be a bad boy. Like he tells a policeman, he always wanted to be a criminal...just not this big of one.
Kit lives by a criminal code of his own devise, although it's difficult to tell if it's something that he worked out in advance or if he's making it up as he goes along. Holly, on the other hand, is just along for the ride much of the time, living life inside her own head, knowing that the misadventure Kit is taking her on is wrong, but unable to take herself out of it. She's young and innocent, but obviously damaged and vulnerable. Whether Kit actually loves her, or just sees in her someone who can be easily manipulated is up for debate, but I tend to believe the former...despite the obvious moral implications. She is only fifteen after all. I believe the picture below says it all.
Despite the bleak premise, Badlands actually has a multitude of moments full of hope and promise, and Holly's narration sounds like poetry all the way through. It plays out very fairly, with no judgment and none of the usual sensationalism, which could be a dangerous thing, according to some people's theories: the romanticizing of the criminal lifestyle is the very thing that lead Kit to murder in the first place.
Obviously the inspiration for True Romance (another great film, which went so far as to utilize the same musical theme) and Natural Born Killers, I do believe that Badlands outshines them both and belongs next to them in any respectable movie collection.