Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review: Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
David Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is the latest entry in the Terrence Malick school of filmmaking and it's a pretty solid crime drama even if it does not quite live up to the recent works of several other Malick acolytes, such as Jeff Nichols ("Take Shelter") and Andrew Dominik ("Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford").

The film, which could be described as a kinder, gentler riff on Malick's "Badlands," tells the tale of two lovers - Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) - who get caught after pulling off a robbery of some sort and end up wounding a police officer (Ben Foster).

Bob takes the blame - even though Ruth pulled the trigger - and is shipped off to prison. In the meantime, Ruth gives birth to their daughter and is watched over by Skerritt (Keith Carradine), whom we can assume introduced them to a life of crime at some earlier point.

Foster's character clearly has a fixation of some sort on Ruth and takes to checking in on her and her daughter without actually being involved romantically. But when Bob escapes from prison after having been locked up for four years and attempts to find his way back to his estranged wife, complications ensue.

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" has the visuals, tone and dialogue delivery of a Malick movie. There's very little in the way of plot and significantly more emphasis on mood. For the most part, it works.

There's a sadness that pervades the film and each of its characters. Bob is determined to get back to his wife even though he seems to second guess whether it's a good idea. Skerritt wants Ruth and her daughter to be able to move on with their lives, while Ruth herself seems torn. And Foster's cop obviously wants to be a good guy, telling Ruth that he holds nothing against Bob. And his persistence makes you wonder if he hopes to get to Bob first in order to prevent something tragic from happening.

If there's anything that prevents Lowery's film from being on the level of Malick's best work or even the films of some of his better imitators, it's that the film is a little too on the surface. "Saints" is a crime story, sort of a love story and that's pretty much it.

This is not to say that just because you're paying homage to Malick, you have to rise to the level of ambition as, say, "The Tree of Life." It's just that in the case of "Saints," what you see is what you get. But what you get is often transfixing.

Lowery is a talent to watch. He's a director that allows for his story to play out in no particular hurry and gets solid performances from his entire cast. I'm curious to see what he does next.

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