Film Review: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Or Quiet Confidence Inspires, Or How Not To Be A Rapacious Bean-Counter

May 10, 2014



Ain’t Them Bodies Saints / Directed by David Lowery / 16V


There was a time when films like this were a lot more plentiful, and indeed, part of the pleasure of regular film-going.  But that was way back when – long before Hollywood became dominated by rapacious bean-counters and techno-geeks producing films that are technologically impressive but otherwise empty.   Come to think of it, it was round about the time when an impressive crop of young, innovative and enthusiastic filmmakers began to make their mark on the industry, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has little chance of surviving on the film circuit and will very probably be gone by the time you read this, so I suggest you put an order in for the DVD at your local rental service.   The truth is that this is very nearly a great film.  With all its flaws, it is still highly entertaining and ultimately very moving.

There is action enough in the historical prologue, but this is mostly a mood study in the subtle shades of altering relationships.  It is very much in the tradition of those films that can best be described as “Figures in a Landscape” (Nebraska was the most recent successful example of this dwindling genre).

Our central couple are young outlaws in the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde and The Sugarland Express with overtones of McCabe and Mrs Miller and especially, Days Of Heaven.  Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) takes the rap for his partner Ruth (Rooney Mara) and is jailed but escapes a few years later in order to meet his daughter by Ruth.  However, Ruth is possibly moving on (in a neat twist) to the cop she wounded.  She has been housed by the father of her and Bob’s partner who died in the botched robbery that saw Bob head for prison.

Gentle, subtle and elegiac, Lowery is a rare director nowadays, one who trusts his audience to connect the dots.  Nothing is overtly explicit and moods, feelings, thoughts and emotions are delicately suggested.   Even the performances are oblique: Affleck continues to cement his reputation as an extremely refined and cerebral actor but with utmost care and delicacy, and Keith Carradine is simply wonderful, especially in the degree to which he holds back.

Considering the restraint with which he handles the characterisation, Lowery comes adrift in overstating some of his imagery.  It’s the occasional spurts of self-consciousness that hold the film back from the full realisation of its potential.  Perhaps the director was pressured by the knowledge that his film was going to be a tough sell to distributors or things slipped from his control in the editing suite.  I think that most likely he didn’t quite trust his initial vision for the film and began to second-guess his audience reactions, something that very often proves fatal.  It’s nowhere near fatal in this case; as I said earlier, the film very nearly achieves greatness.

I, for one, look forward to anything that David Lowery makes in the future.