a i n ' t t h e m b o d i e s s a i n t s
6th September 2013
10th September 2013
Writer / Director David Lowery’s second full length effort appeared to come out of nowhere. At least, it wasn’t really on our radar. We’re glad it did pop up though...
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (nope, us neither) tells a relatively straightforward and well worn tale. For reasons never fully explained, Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara)’s attempt at an armed robbery with their brother (sort of) goes badly wrong and ends up with an injured sheriff and a dead brother. Bob takes the full blame and with the help of guardian Skerritt (Keith Carradine) and the fact that she is pregnant, Ruth is acquitted whilst Bob ends up in clink.
An unusually literate criminal, Bob writes to his good lady every day, promising to turn up one day to fetch her. When Bob does finally escape though, he brings all kinds of chaos with him as Ruth struggles with the guilt of his taking the blame and the reality that it will not bode well for her life if Bob does make it back...
There are a few things that make this movie stand out amongst other doomed love movies, but for me, the main one was the beautifully haunting score by Daniel Hart. It is perfectly married to the nostalgic, dreamy tinted cinematography and dovetails well with the deliberately loud local animal life and background noises. All this leads to a feeling of being submerged in twinkling orange sunlight, chirping crickets, wafting grass and gentle banjo strings. It’s a superbly evocative set of tools that Lowery wields with confidence.
In this brilliantly realised time period we have Mara and Affleck. Affleck as the mumbling (often almost unintelligibly), obsessive letter writer who has only one aim in life. Affleck’s performance isn’t as stark or frankly as interesting as Gosling’s in The Place Beyond the Pines (it lacks none of the simmering threat) and to be honest, the criminal element is probably a little too down-played but you can’t help but hope for him that he can make it back. We don’t get enough background really to properly decide whether he deserves to return but his utter determination to return and the lack of any particular edge in his relationship with his beloved wife makes you want to see them together again.
Mara gets a great role in Ruth. Beautiful in a wide-eyed sort of way but down to earth enough to fit into the story, she is the real heart of the story. Supported (in a remote way) by guardian Skerrit, she is left holding the baby and the guilt. As she visibly wrestles with these things, she also has to deal with somehow putting off the love of her life for the safety of her child. This is complicated by the sheriff (Ben Foster) she shot (but who doesn’t know it was actually her and not Bob) clearly being besotted with her.
Although Ain’t Them Bodies Saints covers familiar ground, it avoids many of a huge line of cliches it could have fallen into. Bob is not violent and there is no underlying terror in the marriage. Ruth and the sheriff don’t fall into each other’s arms and the sheriff isn’t chasing her in the way he would have done in many movies.
At some point, the film looks as if it’s setting up for a Mexican standoff, with the law, the guardian and three hoodlums who show up menacingly in town looking for Bob, all seeming destined to go out in a blaze of glory. It’s no spoiler to say this doesn’t happen like that because this is not that sort of movie and I’m grateful for that.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is an almost dreamlike movie. It is beautiful and haunting, carefully paced and considerate and has leads who you desperately want to be together. Having said that, I can’t say I was massively emotionally engaged with it. The lack of backstory leaves the character’s motivations a little too enigmatic for me to buy into wholeheartedly and some parts rankle (the hoodlums seem dropped in out of another movie and their reasons are never stated or tested). On the whole though, this is a movie that is worth an hour and a half of your time. You just probably won’t spend too much time thinking about it once the beautiful haunting score has drifted from your mind.
Check out the trailer here.