Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
Synopsis: The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
Writer-director David Lowery’s avowed aim when making Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was to craft the visual equivalent of a folk song, and with the help of Bradford Young’s lush cinematography he largely succeeds in doing so. But folk songs aren’t to everybody’s taste, and Lowery’s decision to favour mood over plot results in a slow-moving, romanticised elegy to sweetheart robbers that too often fails to engage the audience on an emotional level. His characters all seem to be cast from the same mould. None of them are particularly interesting, and because the outcome of the story is never really in doubt we spend too much of the film’s running time admiring the visuals and soundtrack while awaiting the inevitable conclusion.
Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck – Out of the Furnace, Interstellar) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara – A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) are the aforementioned duo. We never get to see the crime, committed with the help of a friend named Freddy (Kentucker Audley), but the consequences are deadly. Holed up in a house, Ruth fires indiscriminately at the surrounding police after Freddy is fatally wounded. She wounds an officer, but Bob takes the rap for it so that Ruth can remain free to give birth to the baby she has just informed him she’s expecting. He’s sentenced to 25 years, but the time inside – and Ruth’s failure to visit or write, even though she still loves him – does nothing to dampen his love for her. After four years of repeated escape attempts, Bob finally succeeds – although, once again, we’re never shown how – and heads for their home town, determined to be reunited with Ruth and the daughter he has never seen. What he doesn’t know, however, is that Ruth is on the verge of entering into a romantic relationship with Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster – 3:10 to Yuma, Pandorum), the policeman she shot.
To describe it as low-key doesn’t really do justice to the mellow mood of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It’s clear that Lowery has devoted a lot of time and attention to its look and feel, and there’s no mistaking his dedication to creating a work of art rather than a multiplex movie, but it just feels too loose and vague at times. As mentioned earlier, he has a habit of skimming over key moments, as if perhaps fearing that to include them would rupture the mood for which he’s aiming. Strong performances from his talented cast might have gone some way to salvaging things, but they all seem to be infected by the same sense of ennui that plagues the film. Affleck mumbles his lines like a tired ventriloquist (I had to turn on the subtitles to follow much of what he was saying), while Mara’s character seems too disconnected from events taking place around her for the actress to make much of an impression. Keith Carradine does stand out as the couple’s guardian and one-time mentor, and the under-rated Ben Foster is more than equal to the task of communicating Wheeler’s essential decency and loneliness. In fact, Wheeler’s character is by far the most clearly defined, which is probably – and ironically – due to the fact that Lowery is unable to resort to the voiceovers of letters to communicate Wheeler’s emotions in the way that he can for Bob and Ruth.
(Reviewed 15th May 2015)