CASEY AFFLECK   ROONEY MARA   BEN FOSTER

Ain’t THEM BODIES SAINTS

 ​It’s interesting to look at director David Lowery’s filmography, which showcases his talents in film editing, sound department, visual effects and even acting. Many compared Lowery’s first widely seen feature Ain’t Them Bodies Saint’s to a Terrence Malick film, and it isn’t just because they film in Texas. Lowery’s work is very visually focused, but I found his method of storytelling much more fluid and purposeful than Malick’s. I found Lowery’s appreciation for capturing “the scene” with beautiful flooding cinematography, a haunting score and impending tension to mirror the style of Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, also starring Casey Affleck.

​Their love for each other brought them together and now it will tear them apart. Bob Muldoon (Affleck) throws down the weapon and turns himself in to the police after a robbery goes bad. With Ruth (Mara) by his side and a dead best friend on the floor of an old barn, Bob vows to return to take care of her and their unborn child. Four years of letters and the inability to express her feelings on motherhood and the anticipation for them to reunite, Ruth appears to have moved on until word reaches that Bob has escaped prison. Local cop Patrick Wheeler (Foster), who was shot during the arrest four years ago, sees a chance to be the man Ruth desperately wants.

​Bradford Young’s cinematography is the most interesting and unique aspect of the film (besides the stunning poster) not only because it is beautiful, but also because it tells the story more than dialogue, plot and sound. The editing also plays a powerful role in the slow development of the story that simultaneously takes its time but never wastes it. A big admirer of Affleck’s work, this is not his strongest performance and it rings a little too close to his Robert “Bob” Ford role. Mara continues to prove that she really did deserve that best actress nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, choosing challenging and diverse roles to sharpen her talent.

​Honestly the most impressive performance here is Foster (3:10 To Yuma, The Messenger) in one of his most sensitive performances yet. Typically cast as the aggressor, Foster, like Mara and Affleck, play this role with looks, stares and very loud unspoken dialogue. This semi-western might be set in the 1970’s but Lowery makes Meridian, Texas look and feel like a dusty old saloon town. There isn’t much action here because this is a film about yearning to speak the words you can never say. In it’s own way it’s a romantic film set among impossible circumstance and Lowery has written it purposely to play out visually.

Final Thought – Lacks emotion but looks stunning anyway.

Grade B-

By: Dustin Chase



Dr. Donna Copeland’s

2nd OPINION

 This is high drama told in such a way that the viewer’s sympathies go in unexpected directions.  It starts out with a gunfight, but we know nothing about the background story; the first thing we hear is a woman saying that she thought she shot someone.  The police are outside, and the woman’s husband decides that they will give themselves up and he will claim responsibility.  Subsequently, he goes to prison, vowing that he will always come back to his wife and their child who was born after he was incarcerated.  The story thereafter is about achieving that reunion.  The plot is suspenseful, with a note of doom, as in a Greek play.

 The disadvantage of filmmakers’ withholding background information is that it requires a lot of work on the part of the viewer to figure things out while following the story line, as is the case here.  The advantage is that sympathies are given full reign, and we tend to judge characters based only on what we know in the moment.  Specifically, we may be sympathetic toward a thief because we don’t that he/she is one, nor the circumstances around which the decision is made to steal.  Another advantage is that it takes time to learn what is motivating each of the characters.  That is, we do not know for a long time whether the wife truly loves her husband and wants him to return for her or whether he is actually going to get back to her.  So it adds to the intrigue of the film.

 Writer/Director David Lowery has a rich background in filmmaking as not only a writer/director, but editor, cinematographer, producer, actor, and sound technician as well.  This is evident in the quality of the filmmaking in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which should earn Lowery very high marks.  Rooney Mara as Ruth Guthrie lives up to her reputation as an actress with depth and breadth.  Her scenes with Ben Foster (Patrick) and Casey Affleck (Bob) are filled with emotional tension that is poetically tender and real, a tribute to all three actors.  Actors like Keith Carradine and Nate Parker provide strong backup for them.

 Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a dark film without much to lighten it up, and that is the way it should be for this tragic story, which, however, ends on a compensatory upbeat note.  Grade:  A