DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd :
In 1958, Charles Starkweather (age 20) and Caril Ann Fugate (age 14) went on a killing spree, murdering 11 people. This story serves as the basis for Malick's Badlands an amoral exploration of solitude, nihilism and love.
Malick's debut is an astonishing piece of cinema. The story he tells is simple and is filled with simple characters. This is something I always find in his films. But in Malick's particular niche of cinema it isn't always about the story, it is about evoking a sensation and conveying themes. And even though he is hesitantly discovering the boundaries of how far he can reach as an artist, he has already developed a sense of the lyrical realism that has become his trademark now.
Malick focuses in this story on creating a feeling of isolation. Sheen is someone who cannot find his footing anywhere. He is not tied to anyone or anywhere, mainly because he doesn't want to be. At 25 he is still a kid, a small boy who is fed up with the world and just does what he wants and takes what he can get. And he set his sights on 15 year old Spacek, a young naive girl that falls for that tough, handsome kid without hesitation.
From that connection and growing love comes the spark that sets everything in motion. As their surroundings do not accept their relationship they (instigated by Sheen) simply choose to abandon everything, isolating themselves and trying to create a universe of their own. They regress back to a more childlike state, returning to nature, trying to live off nothing but their love. But life keeps wanting to catch up with them, trying to reel them back in and pin them down.
That continuous struggle and constant sense of having to escape life is handled beautifully and takes up the better part of the film. Malick balances the gorgeous surroundings with the cold violence incredibly well. He allows the scenery to comment on the overlaying sensation of loneliness and isolation. Most of the nature we get to see is beautiful, but also vast and empty perfectly mimicking the state of mind of our two protagonists.
This is perhaps one of Malick's most grounded films, but he still manages to lift it up above the simplicity of the plot. Whether it is by the stunning cinematography, the occasionally astonishing shot composition or the wonderful music, he allows the full extent of the medium to aid him in communicating what he wants us to feel when we watch his film.
And that is something not many directors can accomplish. Once again he manages to strike a chord within me that makes this film linger in my mind, allowing me to muse over the wonderful sensation of feeling connected to something someone somewhere created.