‘THIS was in Texas’ is the opening message of director David Lowery’s beautifully told film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013). Lowery pays tribute to the Texas landscape with majestic visuals that befit his pensive and elegant approach to storytelling.
Set in the 1970s, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a well-executed blend of tragic love story and creeping thriller. Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are a love-struck couple that get into trouble after committing an armed robbery. When Ruth, who is pregnant with their child, accidentally shoots police officer Patrick (Ben Foster), Bob shoulders the blame and is subsequently sent to jail.
As the years pass, Bob continues to send deeply affectionate letters to Ruth from jail. That is until he escapes prison and goes on the run from the police. Patrick, now recovered, is the cop on Bob’s trail, but, worryingly, there are others with crueler intentions attempting to track down Bob.
Like Lowery’s latest film A Ghost Story (in cinemas now), Ain’t Them Bodies Saints makes for entrancing viewing with quiet, thoughtful and lingering images. Lowery and cinematographer Bradford Young pay particular attention to the beauty of rural Texas with its clear blue skies and golden wheat fields (by the way Texas is also the backdrop to A Ghost Story). Under this golden-lit tinge, slow-moving camera and lens flares, the film has a wonderful dreamy quality.
This is particularly on show in scenes that cut between Bob and Ruth as they read each other’s letters and think back to their loving past. Film editors Craig McKay and Jane Rizzo create a sense of closeness which works as an extension of the instant on-screen chemistry Affleck and Mara have in the film’s opening scenes. These intimate moments between Ruth and Bob – together or apart – provide some of the film’s most striking elements and speak wonderfully about their connection.
Daniel Hart’s folksy music, with strings and claps, underscores this mesmeric aesthetic and at times lend this reflective film an urgency. Lowery does keep numerous plates spinning throughout, all of which take unexpected turns. But they all pay off with an emotional punch.
When moments of violence arrive they are handled with a deft –but still gritty and real – touch. In other words, there is substance to Lowery’s style as well as an excellent cast, which features shinning performances from Mara, Affleck and Foster.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a perfect film to watch this weekend if you fancy curling up on the sofa. Of course, if you are out and about, I suggest you find time to check out Lowery’s brilliant A Ghost Story.
Having watched both in the last week, I am fast becoming a big Lowery fan. He offers a welcome change of pace and depth to American cinema.
Naturally, it does not hurt that he has two outstanding performers in Affleck and Mara to lean on. But Lowery is going places. Mark my words. Watch his movies.
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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – 4/5
Rooney Mara – Ruth Guthrie
Casey Affleck – Bob Muldoon
Ben Foster – Patrick Wheeler
Keith Carradine – Skeritt
Nate Parke – Sweetie