Director/Writer: David Lowery
Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Rami Malek
Synopsis: After time spent in jail for murder, Bob (Affleck) sets out across Texas to rejoin his wife Ruth (Mara) and daughter. What he doesn’t know is that Ruth is being courted by a local police officer, Patrick (Foster), someone involved in Bob’s own arrest.
The American South plays such an intrinsic part to the beauty of the country’s art and cinema. Ever since D. W. Griffith captured the wide-open landscapes of his home turf, continuing on with the likes of John Ford to Terrence Malick, filmmakers yearn to photograph its beauty. It is also in these places that darkness and tradition cements itself; racism is largely rooted in the Deep South, and the advocating of guns is continually associated with the Red State, for one. In David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints pastoralist and perilous circumstance go hand in hand – a mix that works aesthetically but lacks something bold and defining.
With a cast that’s made up of some of the best character actors around – Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Keith Carradine – there’s never an issue with performance. Affleck and Mara are less energetic than their muses, Bonnie and Clyde, but better Dunaway and Beatty in terms of dramatic performance. Affleck has already shown himself in a lyrical Western (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and appears completely at ease with the tone Lowery’s going for, as well as the archaic personality of Bob. That said, Mara and Foster don’t subvert that tone but seem slightly more grounded in modernity.
The story feels timeless and the film is very difficult to pinpoint era-wise, sometimes problematic when trying to decipher the importance of context. Much like Malick’s work, the ellipsis of various aspects of plot and character proves difficult in your enjoyment or involvement with the film. There is a linear narrative, though sharp jumps in timelines are often jarring, throwing you and the pace of the film completely off.
When the film is constructed aptly – musically, visually and tonally – it begins to feel like a contemporary classic. However, it never retains continuity and perhaps the Bonnie & Clyde comparison (with the 1967 film very much in the style of the French La Nouvelle Vague with quick cuts, choppy action and emphasis on the translated word “vague”) is key in understanding the film – indistinct and peculiar at points. It is not a wholly kinetic New Wave pastiche, nor is it a sombre modern Western, leaving it as confused composite. Not so much for writing or directing, it’s the acting, Daniel Hart’s score, and Bradford Young’s cinematography that earns the film great credit.
***Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was competing in Semaine de la Critique [Critic's Week] at Cannes 2013. Also posted on LiveForFilms