Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for some violence
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker, Kennadie Smith, Jacklynn Smith
Director: David Lowery
Screenplay: David Lowery

Review published October 11, 2013

David Lowery (St. Nick, Deadroom) writes and directs this Badlands-esque, lyrically melancholy, Western-tinged, Texas-based drama about outlaw Bob Muldoon (Affleck, Gone Baby Gone), a convicted felon who makes his way out of prison in order to try to reconnect with Ruth Guthrie (Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), his wife, and the daughter he never got to know, Sylvie (played by twins Jacklynn and Kennadie Smith).

Bob took the rap for wounding the cop that then-pregnant Ruth wounded during a shootout after their spree of crimes, earning a sentence that will see him give up most of his life behind bars. His wife has moved on with life, going to church and raising their daughter on her own. She is looked after, almost surreptitiously, by the man she nearly fatally shot, a deputy named Patrick Wheeler (Foster, The Mechanic), who has developed unspoken feelings for her of his own. With cops all out looking for Bob's whereabouts, along with a trio of unscrupulous bounty hunters, danger lurks heavily in the small town called Meridian where Ruth and Sylvie reside.

Although crime and killing is on the agenda in Ain't Them Bodies Saints (the title is a misquote of a song lyric that doesn't really pertain to the story at hand), Lowery's film is more of a quiet, contemplative piece about longing, regret, and the desire for a different life than it is a tense thriller. No one is purely good or purely evil in this story, merely people caught up in sometimes terrible circumstances, mostly of their own making. The emotional underpinning of the story belongs to Ruth, who struggles between listening to her heart and listening to her head, as she is caught between the man two men who want to be with her, but they can never co-exist. She can't choose one without causing danger to the other, and to her daughter, which leaves her in a situation that has no easy way out. Mara is strong in the role, able to navigate the emotional waters with a mix of surprising tenderness and steely resolve without having to elaborate the emotions with words.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is handsomely shot, with effective, head-on bathing of its environs with sun and artificial lighting, keeping the actors faces in shadow, and acted with an eye for subtlety that its cast of solid character actors draw out the moodiness of the story well. The best, most emotional moments come without the need for dialogue. It's a refreshingly honest portrayal of souls searching for happiness in a time and place where such a thing is a luxury, causing a need to drift to something new, something different than the current situation.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo