What could have been just another story about delinquents on the run was turned into something extraordinary by first-time director Terrence Malick. A uniquely lyrical story of violence and teenage mythos in the 1950s, Badlands is probably the most low-key film ever made about a mass murderer. Twenty-four-year-old Kit Carruthers (played to perfection by Martin Sheen) has so deeply immersed himself in the studied, affectless cool of James Dean that he appears incapable of showing emotions, while his 15-year-old girlfriend, Holly (Sissy Spacek, also excellent), is at once too baffled by Kit to know how to react and too bored and starved for attention to turn him away when he drags her along for a multi-state killing spree; their crimes seem to stem less from anger than from ennui gone wrong. Much as Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns featured amoral men in a landscape at once beautiful and desolate, Malick places his murderous couple in an American landscape both stunning and strangely barren; Kit's violence seems less an act of focused rage than a pitiful attempt to make something new of his otherwise plain surroundings, much as Holly's flowery narration tries to derive an exciting story from their arid, sordid lives. (Malick's camera crew, led by Tak Fujimoto, Steven Larner, and Brian Probyn, do brilliant work on a limited budget.) Presenting his killers without judgment (but without approval, either), Malick wrought a strange and unsettling beauty for this first chapter in his remarkable (if not prolific) film career.