Film Review – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
The film starts out serenely with a beautiful shot of the landscape and the simple words, “This was in Texas.” The foundation and background for the story told in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints takes only about ten minutes.
The story is not a complex one. Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are in a relationship that takes a turn when they and a friend participate in a robbery. Unfortunately, they do not get away with it, and end up in a shootout with the police. Their friend gets killed and Ruth ends up shooting a police officer, Patrick (Ben Foster). They surrender, but Bob goes to jail for all that happened. Flash forward a few years. Ruth and her child with Bob still live in the same town. Bob is away at prison, but has one hell of a mindset to escape to get back to Ruth and his daughter. In the midst of all this, Patrick strikes up a friendship with Ruth that gets complicated as word gets out that Bob has escaped.
Writer and director David Lowery worked hard on this script, molding it into the story that is simple, but with characters that deviate from the expected norm. The main characters are all relatively good people. Even when crimes of shooting someone or burglary are taken into account, the feeling is that this is what they did to survive. While not the smartest path, Ruth and Bob do not have a vindictive or bad bone in their bodies. They made some wrong choices, and they have to live with what they did. Lowery took the road less traveled with not making the police officer Patrick a guy with his chip on his shoulder and revenge in his heart, and he also created a criminal who plainly is not a guy who will not turn to violence at first thought. If there is such a thing as a kind criminal, Bob is one. Bob has to be one of the most determined characters I have seen in a film lately. His plans to reunite with Ruth are not that bright and are obvious to all, but the guy has gumption.
Filmed in Texas and Louisiana and set in Meridian, Texas, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints will draw comparisons to Terrence Malick films, but with more dialogue and less confusion. The light, the way the actors are framed, and how the landscape is featured are all used in an expertly artistic way. It does not distract from the story and makes the film much more interesting than if it was shot in a more conventional way. Do not let that Malick comment deter you from seeing this—this is not a beautiful film with little substance.
I did have some minor confusion on at least one plot point. Keith Carradine plays Skerritt, the father of Bob’s friend who dies in the burglary escape. There are references to what Skerritt taught them, but what he actually does and did for a living is not that clear. He seems to run a store in the film’s present, but he obviously has some history that is not fully explained.
While Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a beautiful film, it did not hold my attention. Perhaps this is the drawback of reviewing a screener copy rather than seeing it in the theater. It is not a film with an expected storyline or characters, and for that I will continue to applaud David Lowery’s ingenuity. It just drags a little partway through. You know what is coming in the end, but the story meanders and loses some focus on its way there. However, this is a film that has been lauded as possibly one of the best of the year. I would encourage you to see Ain’t Them Bodies Saints for yourself, as I am just one reviewer out of many.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director David Lowery.