Sundance Film Review: Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)

3:17 PM

The second of two western-esque films I saw at the Sundance Film Festival, I was nervous to see David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints after the mediocre impression left by Logan Miller's Sweetwater (2013). It was my last night at Sundance, I had just come out of a screening of The Look of Love, a biopic on Paul Raymond, starring Steve Coogan. It was what I had planned to be my final film at the festival and I was a little let down (unfortunately Steve Coogan's perfect smile isn't enough to redeem a flashy, exciting but nonetheless empty and substance-devoid film). I was just about to leave the theatre when I overheard a group of students talking about their plans to see the new Rooney Mara film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which was playing close by on the festival circuit. I didn’t think I would have much of a chance to see the film but since I didn't have a ticket, but it was my last night at Sundance so I took my chances. As it would happen, I scored a seat, and now I'm one of the people lucky enough to have seen this absolute gem of film. 

Set in Texas in the 1970s, a love triangle is set up between the two robbers Bob (Casey Affleck) and his pregnant wife Ruth (Rooney Mara), and the local detective, Patrick (Ben Foster). After a heist pulled by the young couple, a stand-off ensues and Ruth accidentally shoots Patrick in the shoulder. Bob takes the blame and is imprisoned. What follows is a tender story of Bob trying to make his way back to Ruth, while Patrick, conscience-striken over Ruth's status as a single mother, slowly becomes a part of this little broken family. 

There is no unnecessary flash to Ain't Them Bodies Saints. There are no car chases or jail breaks or explosions as one might expect from a film rooted in crime. It's no Bonnie & Clyde. Instead, what is left is a film about pure longing and inner turmoil. It's understated atmosphere is accentuated by its absolutely beautiful cinematography and lyrical style. I'm certain I'm not the first and certainly won't be the last film enthusiast to draw comparisons between Lowery's work and that of Terrence Malick's. Particularly the languid haziness  of Malick's Badlands, which also drew its plot from a young criminal couple, is reflected in Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Adding further praise to an already beautiful film is its stellar casting. Rooney Mara is wonderful as the wide-eyed, but strong and steadfast Ruth. Casey Affleck as well, playing the idealistic Bob, plays the lovesick criminal with a heart of gold perfectly. It's not often in Hollywood that a sibling can be unique in their own right under a famous sibling's shadow, but Affleck has managed to make a name for himself over the past few years with films like Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford  (2007) etc. The final addition to this little cast is Ben Foster who, while taking some questionable roles of late, has delivered some incredible performances, namely in 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and with a recurring role on Six Feet Under (2001-2005). In this role, Foster shines as Patrick, the Detective  responsible for Bob's imprisonment but who is also in love with Ruth. With Bob on the precipice of reunion with his beloved Ruth, Foster's Patrick is so likeable, it's not just Ruth who is torn between two worlds - the heartache felt in this love triangle truly transcends the screen.

I honestly can't praise this film enough. With a release date set for August of this year, I can't wait to see it again on the big screen! When I remember my time at Sundance, amongst the dozen or so films I saw, it’s the beautiful Ain’t Them Bodies Saints that  really  resonates with me and sticks to my bones.

My rating: 9 cats of out 10

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