Martin Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Kit Carruthers in Badlands.
Martin Sheen is the murderer Kit who kills the father of Holly (Sissy Spacek). Martin Sheen plays the role as rouge who has quite taken to the idea of being James Dean. This is something even mentioned directly in the film. The idea of the main character in a realistic drama like this playing the character as partially a James Dean imitator is very tricky. Sheen though is absolutely brilliant in this aspect of the performance. He finds just the right way to have the Dean's mannerisms that seem to be natural to the way Kit has made himself to be. Yes, it is an imitation to a certain degree, but still feels effortless as part of Kit as if it was not hard for Kit to identify with Dean to begin with.
One of the main focuses of the film is Holly's view of Kit which is that of an almost pure romantic despite where their romance gets them. Most of what is traded between the two are looks to on anther. They speak to one another of course, but really most of what they say to each other seems to be about simple unsubstantial things. The substantial moments of their relationships are displayed through their silent glances between them which are quite powerfully portrayed by both Spacek and Sheen. Their relationship honestly seems on another level past attraction or anything else, there just seems to be a mutual understanding between the two that is so beautifully portrayed by the actors with such ease.
It really is an astonishing achievement from both actors the way they create this unique relationship between the film that anchors the film along beautifully. Sheen and Spacek honestly could not be better together in creating this bizarre pair that go along the film. As the two move along through the film when they come close to even when they break apart later on in the film the two are able to show their relationship so brilliantly. They never take the easy route in portraying any aspect of their relationship and go for the bombastic route instead they stay so intensely subtle that it incredible how well they allow us to see every aspect of their relationship as it changes. The two create a connection on screen that few other onscreen couples are able to bring to life.
Of course though a big part of what happens in the film is Kit's killing spree that he goes on mercilessly through many places within the United States. Sheen is particularly compelling in these murder scenes without how matter of fact Kit is in his method especially after his first murder. The first murder which is of Holly's father is quick and instinctively. Sheen is subtle in his reaction of knowing he has killed someone, which is not really guilt but some recognition that he probably should not have done it. Sheen though set up here that although Kit shows a certain regret for his actions, but that these regrets are in no way making him think twice about continuing murdering more people along the way.
When he starts killing more people there is not even a semblance of regret and there is an especially disturbing quality in these scenes because of how little weight there is to his shooting. Kit just does it, and Sheen does not show Kit even second guess himself. He does not show sadism either or desperation even in his method he just kind of goes about doing this and Kit keeps his James Dean cool even when murderer unarmed onlookers. Sheen through his performance honestly creates a particular sort of killer in all too believable of fashion. Killing is just something he can do so easily there isn't anything special about what he does, and Sheen creates a chilling portrait of such a killer.
Now what might be the oddest but most fascinating part of his performance though is late in the film after he is caught and he takes a most peculiar way with his captors. He again stays his James Dean self even in these scenes and it is fascinating. He becomes extremely charming in these scenes and is basically a celebrity with his captors. Sheen absolutely pulls this off with such charisma and style while staying entirely realistic in his performance. He makes the killer a man that is easy to like which is quite bizarre but incredibly effective in showing exactly why everyone would seem to take so well to him.
Performances in the films of Terrence Malick sometimes become part of the cinematography, this is one that stands out on his own, more so than even Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life. Sheen gives passionate performance that creates such a particular but compelling character in Kit Carruthers. He doesn't play anything safe about his performance from the James Dean influence in his character, to the almost silent creation of the central relationship with Sissy Spacek. Every risk he takes with this performance pays up to make this a very memorable chilling characterization of this killer. This is a great performance by Martin Sheen who goes out on a limb with his portrayal and never stops for a moment in this outstanding performance.