Film: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Director: David Lowery
Primary Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker, Charles Baker
US Release Date: 16 August 2013
Since this movie came out a few years ago, and since I am rather tired, I’m cutting this one a little short.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a romantic crime drama that’s set in rural Texas sometime in the 1970s (although the exact year doesn’t matter much). The film was written and directed by David Lowery (who was an editor on Upstream Color), and it follows a young couple (Mara and Affleck), whose love seems doomed from the start. From an atmospheric and an aesthetic standpoint, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is exceptionally lovely; but from a narrative one, it is less than spectacular.
Even when the rest of the film is not at its best, its cast remains fully committed to bringing Lowery’s vision to life. As single mother Ruth Guthrie, Rooney Mara is particularly wonderful. Not only is she gorgeous, but she is also the emotional heart of the film, and hers is the character who viewers are most likely to be moved by. Casey Affleck and Ben Foster are both quite good as well, and all three of the film’s main players manage to convey a good deal of emotion even when Lowery’s script itself might not. Keith Carradine also makes an impact in the film, although his character, Skerritt, is much more likely to inspire feelings of slight confusion than he is any real emotional connection.
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Along with Mara and Affleck, the other star of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is its cinematographer, Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year, Selma, Pariah). Like so much of the cast, Young does not let the film down in any way. In fact, his work is one of its biggest strengths. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is visually beautiful, and it features soft, captivating images that evoke a sense of longing that suits the film’s subject matter perfectly. Young’s cinematography also has a warm, hazy quality that fits the film’s setting and that—along with the movie’s delicate score—works to sweep away those who see it. (Also, it doesn’t mean much, but Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has one of the most gorgeous posters I’ve ever seen, and the image it features is taken straight from the film.)
Despite its many strengths, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints falls short of true greatness, and this is largely because of weaknesses found in Lowery’s script. The writer/director’s broader ideas aren’t bad or uninteresting, but his storytelling is not polished or clear enough to execute his visions to the fullest. Given the film’s considerable potential, those moments in which Lowery stumbles are rather frustrating; in fact, the film’s many bright spots may actually serve to expose some of its failures.
For instance, while Ruth and Bob are complex, compelling characters, Lowery’s script does not tell their story in a way that maximizes their potential, which is disappointing. More generally, too many aspects of the film are not clear enough or are not conveyed elegantly or effectively enough to fully live up to its actors, Young’s images, or Lowery’s aims. Many details of the film’s plots are also so muddy that they become a distraction and a hindrance.
The pacing of the film is also a problem. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is only 95 minutes long, but it splits that time between multiple narratives while failing to develop all of them as well as it could have; while the Ruth storyline is well executed, the one that follows Bob is not as engaging, and the one that follows Skerritt is a bit of a mess. Certain moments in the film also feel rather rushed, and its exposition should have been longer. One of the most captivating scenes in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is its very first, but Lowery leaves that part of the story behind so quickly that viewers may feel cheated (from a thematic standpoint, I understand why Lowery may have made this choice, but it severely undermines the film’s potential for emotional impact).
Throughout Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, it often feels like Lowery is aiming for something impressionistic, but he also tries to imbue his story with too many particular details for that approach to work as well as it could have. Furthermore, while there is something quietly profound about the film—some of its moments are genuinely moving—that does not change the fact that a little polishing would have made it much better.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints may not live up to its own potential, but it is worth watching all the same. Fans of Mara, Affleck, or even Young are sure to find something to love in the film, and the movie shows enough flashes of promise that I’m interested to see how Lowery progresses as a director.
Until Next Time
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