16 September 2013 | rooee
Ain't half bad
What is it about the Deep South that's so evocative in cinema? Maybe it's the timelessness. Ain't Them Bodies Saints could be set at any time during the past forty years. The sun seems forever rising or setting in this region, and filmmakers can't help but point their lens in its direction, silhouetting their beautiful actors. Terrence Malick has a lot to answer for.
It's hard not to think of Malick's first film, Badlands, when watching this. The story concerns a couple of young Texan criminals, painfully in love. When Ruth (Rooney Mara) shoots policeman Patrick (Ben Foster), her lover Bob (Casey Affleck) takes the blame and goes to jail. Bob promises he'll come for Ruth, and duly escapes incarceration. Meanwhile, Patrick is making moves on Ruth, oblivious to her guilt. All of this is under the wise, watchful eye of Skerritt, played wonderfully by Keith Carradine. As Bob closes in on Ruth, the cops and the gangsters close in on Bob.
There are times during Ain't Them Bodies Saints when writer-director David Lowery's style and technique comes across as mimicry, of Malick and also of Jeff Nichols, as well as countless American movies from the 1970s. Thankfully, he also has an interesting story to tell, and it is one presented with rich textures. At times the film flows like a visual poem, with Bradford Young's evocative cinematography melding perfectly with Daniel Hart's stirring music. The effect is of something exquisitely handmade.
Affleck's mumbled delivery here exudes danger; he's mythologising himself in the same way he once mythologised Jesse James. Mara is sentimentalised as the angelic mother, but Lowery is wise enough to suggest that this comely vulnerability is an act also - a sophisticated defence against hard men secretly seeking softness.
Perhaps the film veers too closely at times toward stylish vagueness and too far from the broken heart of the story. But there is no denying this is a serious, authored work of art.