|Courtesy of IFC Films|
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
2013, 105 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
A complete stunner from start to finish, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is possibly the best-shot film I have ever seen (cinematographer Bradford Young won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival for both this film and Mother of George, which I will review this weekend) and is compelling throughout under the direction of David Lowery, best known for his editorial work on acclaimed films like Upstream Color. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints features Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, and Casey Affleck and is about two lovers, Ruth and Bob (Mara and Affleck, respectively) who are separated after Bob goes to jail for shooting a policeman, a crime that Ruth committed but that Bob took the fall for. After Bob escapes years later, he tries to make it back to see Ruth and his child who was born shortly after his incarceration.
This movie looks as if it was directed by a seasoned veteran, not a relative newcomer. The story moves at an even pace, a rarity for films nowadays. At its heart, it tells a moving love story wrapped in a crime drama/western film. Lowery and his production designers give the film a distinct period look. While Ain't Them Bodies Saints takes place in 1970s Texas, it feels like a classic western, very much in the naturalistic vain of McCabe & Mrs. Miller (there is a scene with overlapping dialogue, a trademark of Robert Altman). Lowery directed the film in a laid-back manner, allowing scenes to breathe when needed, but applying tension when needed, creating a film with its own unique, calming rhythm. When I fell into the rhythm of Ain't Them Bodies Saints, I was mesmerized.
The entire cast gives moving, convincing performances that mesh perfectly with each other and never overshadow one another. Ben Foster is the standout as the cop who Ruth shot who begins to fall for her while Bob is in jail. Foster’s character is the most morally upright of the group and his performance as this admirable man is powerful, particularly in the latter half of the movie.
Finally, Bradford Young’s (Pariah, Mother of George) cinematography is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It adds to the naturalistic feel of the movie and really makes the Texan setting come alive. Using natural light and extensive use of shadows, Young creates images so beautiful that, if frozen, could be placed in a photography exhibition. The cinematography emphasizes the nature surrounding the characters and gives the film a dreamlike quality. Through the immaculately-framed images, I felt the dust, smelled the sweat, and was transported to the world of the film. Not a single frame is out of place and every one adds to the story.
Overall, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a truly unforgettable film that can be best described as a cross between Bonnie and Clyde and a 1970s Terrence Malick film. Those that don’t like Malick films shouldn’t be alarmed, though, because this film, while stylistically similar to a Malick film, is quite different story and acting-wise. Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a film that should receive awards attention come the year’s end, if only for Young’s cinematography.