When Terrence Malick settled on the true crimes of spree killer Charles Starkweather (later to inspire Natural Born Killers) as the subject for his ’73 debut, cynics had good reason to expect another Bonnie And Clyde knock-off. But the result was far more than just another gun-crazy-kids flick. Kit (Martin Sheen), a garbage collector with James Dean poise, sweeps impressionable Holly (Sissy Spacek) off her feet, kills her father, and takes her on the lam across country, trailing random shootings in their wake. Refracted through Holly’s naive, emotionally flat narration and Malick’s poetic visual style, this familiar tale is transformed into something strange and oddly beautiful. The unique, lilting music would subsequently crop up in True Romance, though Tarantino’s generation has yet to dethrone Badlands as the most haunting of all couple-on-the-run movies.
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