(On Cable TV, March 2019) There were a surprising number of high-profile “romantic criminal couple on the run” movies during the New Hollywood period, with seemingly everyone (including Spielberg!) taking a shot at it. Badlands is Terrence Malick’s debut feature and it fully embraces the subgenre, while being perhaps a bit more entertaining for Malick completists than the impression left by his later features would suggest. A summary of the story sounds like genre material: a girl meets a guy who ends up killing his dad and then go on the run together, killing more people along the way. From Gun Crazy to Bonnie and Clyde to Natural Born Killer (and others!), this is an American archetype. But Malick makes everything sophisticated rather than trashy by using voiceovers and a kind of languid pacing that never abandons the small-town atmosphere even as the bodies pile up. Badlands spends a lot of time in rural America in ways rarely seen in other movies, adding credible 1950s details in ways that stick in mind, whether it’s recording physical records at coin-operated machines or filling up a car from leaking gas stations. Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen both star, with Sheen looking uncannily like his sons would two decades later. I really expected to dislike the film, based on my reactions to later Malick films, overall lack of appreciation for New Hollywood and familiarity with the subgenre… but I didn’t. It eventually won me over slightly, thanks to the period detail and flourishes such as a climactic car chase. It certainly helps that Badlands isn’t as bleak as other films of the subgenre, most of which can’t be bothered to be more imaginative than to have their leading couple go down in a hail of bullets. Malick is definitely after something else here, and the film thrives on that intention.