Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Ain't Them Bodies Saints photo starrating-3stars.jpgFor all its artistry, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is saddled with one of the worst movie titles in recent memory. Watching the film will not shed any light on what that cryptic title means. Apparently director David Lowery misheard the lyrics in an old folk song many years ago but liked the sound of the phrase anyway. They have absolutely no significance other than interesting sounding words to convey a time period. In many ways that’s appropriate because David Lowery’s meditation on a western is more concerned with milieu than meaning anyway.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are engaging. They play a couple kept apart after a getaway gone wrong from a botched robbery.  Bob agrees to take the fall for a violent act for which his wife Ruth is in fact responsible. This then is the emotional chronicle of outlaws whose exalted devotion is made more relevant than what they’ve actually done. Their romance is boiled down to its essence. We learn Ruth is pregnant with their daughter. Bob vows to reunite with his wife, prison sentence be damned. His undying dedication to her is a key theme. That Bob and Ruth love each other is obvious. There is a pure naturalism to their behavior. They express a lot with very few words. Conversation is secondary as the atmosphere is what’s important. Matching them is Ben Foster who plays the deputy who warms up to Ruth oblivious that it was she who indeed shot him. He’s memorable as a third wheel. Keith Carradine also gives a notable performance as their neighbor who has become sort of a father figure to Bob.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a stunningly beautiful picture with a score to match. The drama is set against the backdrop of 1970s Texas Hill Country. However there’s a timelessness that makes this saga feel as if it could’ve happened even further in the past. Their homestead takes on an ethereal beauty far beyond the modest farmhouse where they live in reality. The aura at once recalls depression era photographs of Dorethea Lange or Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”.  But it’s even more hewn from Terrence Malick’s Badlands and to a lesser extent Days of Heaven. David Lowery is unquestionably a director to watch, yet he’s fashioned a film that’s easy to admire but a hard one to truly enjoy. Lowery exploits the neo-western ethos in a way that luxuriates in ambience but at the expense of a strong narrative. If you champion appearances over depth, you‘ll find much to cherish here. The elegant lyricism will charm anyone more captivated by a mood than well-defined storytelling. Its melancholy tone will seduce style mongers into heaven.

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30 Responses to “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”

  1. Great review mark. I quite like the sound of this one, despite the flaws that you point out. I’ll still give it a go but I will go in with trepidation.

  2. Nice review Mark. I really liked this film. Not because it was pretty, but because it had an actual story, with characters I could actually give a flying hoot about.

  3. I did like this movie, but the mood was a little too mellow and calm. The subject matter should have called for more excitement. 3 stars also. P.S. I also think the title was bad. It did make me laugh though.

  4. Man I wish I could write like you. I know you mentioned this on Facebook for some Ben Foster love and I have been interested in seeing it for awhile but your review makes me want to rent it. Sounds good, just nothing worth really going out of my way for. And when is Rooney Mara going to play a woman who DOESN’T kill/shoot someone?

    • I hope I didn’t undersell the performances. Everyone is really good. Since you’re a big fan of Ben Foster, you might enjoy this even more, although his part is kind of small.

      P.S. Thanks for the writing compliment! 🙂

  5. Nice review. I’ve read the Malick comparisons before, which I why I’m excited into seeing this film.

  6. Nice review. I’ve read similar points of view on this one but I’m still pretty excited to see it. Love Affleck, Mara and Foster.

  7. Beautiful review. I’m a little more wary of the film now at least in terms of tempering expectations; I was really hoping for a truly profound story accompanied by, as you say, breathtaking atmosphere/cinematography. . . but I suppose films that have both of those are truly rare gems. Still, I eagerly await for its release here 🙂

  8. Interesting review. When I started reading it, I assumed you didn’t like the movie. Then next paragraph meant you liked the various character sketches (still I assumed you weren’t crazy about the film). And Bang!! ‘stunningly beautiful film’.
    I liked Badlands when I watched it about a decade ago.
    Am yet to watch this unusually titled seemingly good movie.

    • For everything that this film has going for it, that title is not one of them. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the movie although my feelings kind of vacillated as I watched. Overall, I recommending it though. It’s too memorable to dismiss.

  9. Excellent Review. While I was blown away by the style and score I was left felling a bit empty by the end. While it is reminiscent of Malick’s early work I still think it presents a director still finding his feet. For me, too little time was invested in setting up and solidifying the relationship between the two leads at the beginning for me to be lost in the romance and journey that was unfolding. I do however feel that David Lowery is most certainly one to watch.

    • I completely agree. Badlands and Days of Heaven are more accomplished. But as you point out, there is much potential here. Looking forward to seeing what Lowry does next.

  10. Have yet to see this one yet Mark, but it is on my want to watch list for sure. I do enjoy me some Casey Affleck.

  11. Great review. I am actually looking forward to seeing this one, and I think this unusual title makes me even more so.

  12. “Easy to admire, hard to enjoy”. Spot on Mark.

  13. Sounds pretty and seems like there are good performances, but based on your review, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it. Most often, I don’t care for films where style trumps substance. Occasionally there are exceptions, although I don’t think this would be one of them for me.

  14. I finally saw this, so I looked up your review.

    I agree on many points, especially as to its beauty. I think I like it a bit more than you do, though because I think the characters a bit more interesting than you seem to. They don’t really change, at least not fundamentally, but they do, I think, develop.

    The narrative is certainly lite.

    Anyway, great review!

    • I sympathize with your feelings. I don’t hold strong opinions on this film. I’ve heard people say they love it and others say they hate it. I completely understand both sides.

      • So do I. My opinion is fairly strong (I gave it a B, the same grade I gave, say, Captain Phillips), but I don’t actually love it. I’m somewhere in the middle, leaning (heavily) to the positive.

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