Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

aint-them-bodies-saints-posterAin’t Them Bodies Saints starts where most movies end, with an outlaw couple – Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) – getting arrested. Bob takes the blame and goes to jail while a pregnant Ruth ends up being released. Staying in their home town, she raises their child by herself while Bob, behind bars, can’t wait to be reunited with her and the daughter he doesn’t know. His escape, four years later, will have irremediable consequences, shattering the quiet, new life she had built for herself and the girl.

Contrary to most movies about criminals, what interests director David Lowery isn’t their life of crime but rather its aftermath. Ruth lives a peaceful life but remained an outlaw at heart. She is haunted by Bob’s absence, keeping her distance from the rest of the world, except for two protective presences circling around her, a father figure (Skerritt – Keith Carradine) and a police officer pursuing her romantically (Ben Foster).

All characters seem to suffer from loneliness and a sense of loss. Their quest for inner peace motivates their actions but loyalty is what will make or break their fate: Bob’s love and friendships will bring him allies but he’ll pay the price for his treacherous ways.

From the premise reminiscent of Badlands to the gorgeous photography and the opening sequence which could easily be interchanged with a similar scene from To The Wonder starring Casey’s brother and Olga Kurylenko, Terrence Malick’s influence is omnipresent, at least at first. These references seem however to emphasize what an inspiration he’s been for filmmakers, Mr. Lowery taking this Malick-like setting in another direction, showcasing his own artistic voice as the film unrolls further. Where Mr. Malick explores the links between humans and their naturalistic environment, Mr. Lowery focuses on the relationships between men and women using nature as a background to symbolize their loneliness or peacefulness. His narrative advances slowly and his camera stays close to his characters to better capture their inner turmoil. Most importantly, he shows a rare talent at keeping his standards high, whether it’s in terms of storytelling, cinematography or actor direction, everything being hold together pretty tight, from start to finish.

The characters are of course the core of this picture and the ensemble cast delivers an overall solid performance. After the stunning Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the painfulDevil Inside Me, Mr. Affleck shows once again that darkness can hide behind his innocent looks and shaky voice. Rooney Mara is a sad beauty embodying with subtlety the weight of pain while the veteran Keith Carradine exhibits his quiet force. But it’s probably Ben Foster who has the best moments here in a subdued act he’s been building a discreet but impressive body of work since I noticed him in the TV show Six Feet Under.

When the story ends, it’s without artifice, quietly and inexorably, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints leaving you with the scent of its dark beauty. 

Director: David Lowery – Actors: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara – Running time: 1:45 – Year: 2013 – Country: USA 

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.