Tuesday, August 3, 2010


When you hear about something based on a true story, somehow you begin to expect something that is a bit less true than is being advertised. A bit of sensationalizing, perhaps, a combing through of the parts people expect with a large quantity of dramatic license to massage it through. So if Badlands is based on the true story of a young couple hiding out after one of them kills lots of people, you'll likely expect something that's a bit of an action thriller about young love and copious amounts of sex. That's not what you get when you watch Badlands.

Okay, it's about young love, that much is true. Martin Sheen at his sexiest plays Kit, a sexy garbage man who is sexy, and 25. Sissy Spacek is Holly, a 15 year old girl who does music lessons and baton twirling. They fall in love in a slightly creepy relationship, which Holly's dad (Warren Oates) does not approve of, for obvious reasons. Kit kills Holly's dad and she goes on the run with him, because teenage girls are stupid.

However, instead of being about these hot and sexy young lovers sexily loving each other in a young way, it turns into something very different. It is, more than anything, a meditation on loneliness, as the pair's only companion is the car they steal and acres of empty space. This is partially due to Kit needlessly killing everyone he comes across, so you're not quite sympathetic for them, but the film does a good job of emphasizing just how alone and apart from the world they are. Sometimes they're just the only object in frame apart from an empty sky and an emptier field. It just emphasizes their isolation.

The film is also quite pretty, in spite of the awful '70s film stock which was de rigueur. Shot composition is often breathtaking, always beautiful, and sometimes does a better job of telling the story than the script. It's about two people in the middle of nothing, and the shots are perfect at emphasizing their situation.

That said, the film is far from perfect. Spacek's narration doesn't really serve much purpose, apart from reminding us that she's a teenage girl and thus stupid - this is a trait shared with teenage boys by the way, it's just that there aren't any in the film to call out for their stupidity. Kit's character is obviously charming, a point emphasized by the later scenes where he charms all the people who tried to arrest him, but he's not very consistently charming, which undermines it a bit. Also, mountains of Saskatchewan, are you serious? Gales of laughter right there.

Still, it does what it seems to have intended all along, and it does a good job. The film presents the loneliness of people who brought it on themselves in a surprisingly sympathetic manner, and is pretty strong overall as a film. It could easily be seen as boring, but if you're in the right mindset, it's almost therapeutic.

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