A sporadic, singular career
Terrence Malick's career has been as unusual as his latest film. Although many critics regard him as one of the most masterly modern directors, "The Thin Red Line" is only his third completed movie. The previous one arrived 20 years ago, and the time since then has been filled with a long silence, interrupted by occasional reports of uncompleted projects.
"Badlands" marked his directorial debut in 1973 - after earlier careers as a journalist, philosophy teacher, and screenwriter - and gave a huge boost to the Hollywood careers of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, who played an antisocial young man and his empty-headed girlfriend on a Midwest crime spree. While it contains considerable violence, this is depicted with such no-nonsense efficiency that the movie was released with a mild PG rating. (Today it might receive a PG-13, which didn't exist then.) Admirers still praise its expressive camera work, economical screenplay, and creative use of classical music.
"Days of Heaven," released in 1978 and also rated PG, stars Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as a nomadic couple who settle on a Texas farm, sparking a tragic love affair between the woman and the wealthy man (Sam Shepard) who owns the place. The picture earned four Oscar nominations and won the cinematography award for Nestor Almendros's nature-drenched camera work. Like both of Malick's other films, it makes highly original use of voice-over narration, spoken by Linda Manz in the slangy Chicago drawl of a little girl surrounded by grown-up intrigue.
Both films are available on home video, "Badlands" from Warner Bros. and "Days of Heaven" from Paramount.