Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Film Title: Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 96 min

Fri, Sep 6, 2013, 00:00


Everything tastes a bit like Terrence Malick these days. (Unless it’s Upstream Colour, in which case it tastes like both Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick.) And who can complain when we get films that employ the influence so intelligently as the bewitching Ain’t Them Bodies Saints?

David Lowery’s Sundance hit, which wears its Badlands rags unashamedly, plays as if dragged up from the muddy depths of folk memory. A little like a western, a little like a cinematic murder ballad, the picture takes place in an indeterminate past that occasionally bleeds into the rural present. So much could have gone wrong. Yet almost everything goes right.

When you hear that the film stars Casey Affleck (who makes Ryan Gosling seem like Graham Norton) and Rooney Mara (rarely confused with Goldie Hawn), you will deduce that Lowery is at home to a class of deadened, internalised acting. The film begins with Bob and Ruth, outlaws of the old school, engaging in a violent showdown with the local police. One officer is left seriously wounded and Bob is sent to prison.

While he is inside, Ruth gives birth to their daughter and chats meaningfully with the decent cop who survived the shootout (Ben Foster). Allowing connections with Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller – a major influence – Keith Carradine lurks darkly as the local kingpin.

“Darkly” really is the key adjective here. Shooting on 35mm film, employing creaky old-school lighting, Lowery and cinematographer Bradford Young dare to plunge us into ever gloomier shadows that, by the film’s close, envelop the action in near-total blackness. It’s fitting for a movie that seeks to demonstrate both the power and ultimately the depressing limitations of love.

Bob soon escapes from jail, but the reunion is delayed and delayed while events conspire against them. “The two of us were always one,” Bob says at one stage. “Even when we fought, it was like puppies playing with a ball.” That is their joy and their tragedy. They are children with elderly souls, punctured runaways.

It’s shaping up to be a good autumn for films.