Sometimes the comparisons are obvious and actually make sense. Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did seem to be the bastard child of Badlands and Days of Heaven, but most of the time, as with recent efforts by New York filmmaker Kelly Reichardt and this year's Sundance film Little Birds, the Malick reference seems tangential at best. It seems to simply be shorthand for a movie that is meandering in narrative and lugubriously paced.
This makes me wonder which Terrence Malick these critics are referencing. It certainly can't be the