Monday, August 19, 2013

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" director David Lowery has made a film that's lovely to look at but lacking in its storytelling.

Casey Affleck plays the Texas criminal Bob Muldoon and Rooney Mara his doomed lover Ruth Guthrie, who in the opening scene fires the shot that kills their friend when the police come to arrest Bob. Bob takes the blame and is sentenced to 25 years to life (a cop was also wounded in the exchange), but after a few years (during which time Ruth has given birth to their daughter Sylvie) escapes, telling his bar-owner buddy Sweetie (a strong Nate Parker) "the doors just magically opened." They've written each other letters every day, but the reality of Bob's impending return puts Ruth and all of town on edge (including the rarely seen Keith Carradine in a substantial role as Skerritt, Ruth's neighbor and the shopkeeper father of the shooting victim). 

The film has some of the look of Terrence Malick - plenty of fields and nearly empty farmhouses - but Lowery and cinematographer Bradford Young have filmed it after twilight, in the late evening hours just before the sky goes darkest, and its heavy shadows cast a gorgeous autumnal spell. The structure of the story, though, is all wrong. We need to spend time with Ruth and Bob before they're forced apart in order to be emotionally invested in their star-crossed romance. It's a shame, because Mara's performance commands the screen, and Ben Foster also does nice work as Patrick, a cop who's sweet on Ruth but also views her and Sylvie with pity and protectiveness. She's a one-man woman, but eventually stops resisting certain of the courtesies he extends.

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