Writer/director David Lowery has gathered a superb cast of actor to explore a rather simple story, a cinematic folksong in the western sense (the film is set in the 1970s but could easily be timeless so far reaching are the themes): quite simply it is the tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and his wife/girlfriend Ruthie Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and their kin Freddy (Kentucker Audley) have been `raised' by a man named Skerritt (Keith Carradine) and are bank robbers. In their latest attempt Freddy is killed and Ruthie shoots at and wounds Sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), but to protect his pregnant wife Bob takes the blame and is sent to prison for four years. Bob writes Ruth daily and longs to be reunited with her and their new daughter Sylvie and escapes the prison by cajoling a guard. Escaping means walking and hitchhiking with a young lad named Will (another impressive turn for Rami Malek). Bob finds a Gilead with Sweetie (Nate Parker) but is determined despite the odds to walk his way back to Ruthie as he had promised. Ruthie meanwhile is making do, raising Sylvie on her own, has been given a house by Skerritt, and is courted by the Sheriff she shot (he does not know that the shooter was Ruthie). There is as much silence in the film as there is dialogue, the characters meditating on the fragility of love and the sense of unpredictable fate. The ending is deeply moving.
Bradford Young provides the hypnotic cinematography, allowing the story to unfold gradually (if a bit too long under Lowery's direction). The musical score by Daniel Hart adds enormously to the overall mood of this film. Set in the bleak stretches of Texas hill country the music mixes folk traditions with simple sound of single instruments and songs in a manner most conducive to underling the story.The performances are all memorable, but it is that of Rooney Mara who likely will be in the running for awards. But foremost it is the concept and the technique of cinematic experimental excellence that makes this film a jewel, the work of an important new artist in David Lowery. Grady Harp, September 13
Some films come in like a hurricane, devouring us with frame after frame of intended poignancy. Other films take their time to develop something that feels soft and languid and subtly envelopes the audience into a story they cannot shake because it feels so authentic, so lived in and so honest.
The opening frames to `Ain't Them Bodies Saints' shows two sun-kissed lovers, Ruth and Bob, as they have an unidentified argument and Ruth threatens leaving. Bob offers to walk her to her mothers, since it is too far for her to walk on her own. In his playful, pleading, loving manner he wins her back without much of a fight and she falls into his arms, pretending to struggle yet you know that she is more than willing to take him back and forget this ever happened.
Besides, she's pregnant.
Thus starts with beautiful and haunting tale of love in the midst of adversity, some self-made and others heaped upon you by forces unknown. In the next few minutes their life spirals out of control in small vignettes that give us just enough information to keep the focus of this film clear. Circumstances surrounding a lot of what happens is left open-ended, ambiguous and detail-light. This way we continue to set our sights on the important things; like Ruth and Bob's relationship. A botched `job' sends Ruth, Bob and their semi-adopted brother into hiding in the home Bob and Ruth share. As police fire rings overhead, the three try and work out a gameplan, but shots are exchanged, death corrodes the atmosphere and both Ruth and Bob are taken into custody.
This is where the guts of the film come to bare their soul.
Bob is taken to prison, while Ruth is let off to raise her daughter on her own. The two correspond as much as they can through letters, but when Bob escapes prison things become complicated. Bob obviously wants to return home to collect his wife and child, but the police are extra alert to activity in the area and are determined to bring him down. Things become even more complicated when one of those police officers, Patrick Wheeler, becomes emotionally attached to Ruth and her daughter. Ruth's confusion over her own feelings and what she deems best for her daughter makes matters much worse, especially when Bob starts to reach out to her, suggesting they run off together.
With hints of `Romeo + Juliet' laced in a package that resembles early Malick, David Lowery's `Ain't Them Bodies Saints' is a real treasure. From a technical angle, this film thrives in worn set pieces and clothes and facial expressions that are basked in such beautiful light one can't help but feel endeared to them. The film's visual structure reminded me a lot of `Badlands' and `Days of Heaven', early Malick where the grit of the atmosphere was embellished by the lustful camera lens. But that isn't where the similarities end. `Aint' Them Bodies Saints' carries with it a deeply rooted overlay of emotions and character developments that are subtle and simple and expressed through sequences of few words and heavy atmospheric tones that are brought to life by an array of factors; from the score to the cinematography to the astounding performances that grace every single frame.
This says a lot to the strength of the director. I'm in love with this new wave of directors who are more concerned with telling a story well than with delivering easily digestible moneymakers. Look at Steve McQueen for example. His films are difficult, artistic and have value. I've only seen this one film from David Lowery, but if this any indication then he's going to be one to watch.
Casey Affleck, complete with his cool demeanor, and Rooney Mara are excellent as the lovers torn asunder by circumstance. Their chemistry, even when they are apart (which is the majority of the film) is beautiful and really speaks to the core of the film. If you didn't believe they were that deeply affected by their own love for one another, this film would not work, but you shiver at the sight of Mara's own tears. The pair of supporting players in Ben Foster and Keith Carradine are the real joys here though. Their intentions serve as a foundation for the film's action, and they both carry their tortured centers with such authenticity. Ben Foster is especially effective in his interactions with Mara, and his "I only see good" speech brought me to tears.
It was embarrassing, but I owned it.
Love is a tricky thing, and time passes in a way that can either strengthen or dampen that love, but more than anything else, time can wizen us up to what that love has done to us. With both Bob and Ruth, time has deepened their resolve to do what is best for their futures, but their lives have spiraled into two separate directions and so their ideas of the future are drastically different.
Hollywood has had a fascination in telling the private and personal stories of those living just outside the law probably as long as there’s been this thing called film. And why wouldn’t it? The press certainly has made a mint off of glamorizing the lifestyles of the desperate and the depraved. One could even make a case that it was reporters who truly brought the story of BONNIE & CLYDE to life. The reading public bought the legend (instead of the facts) hook, line, and sinker, so Tinseltown scribes are all-too-happy to one-up the legend whatever chance they get … which is essentially what writer/director David Lowery has tried to do with his latest, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Bob Muldoon (played by critical darling Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are one part lovers and two parts felon. Their love can’t quite survive a shoot-out in the hills of Texas, but when Ruth shoots local officer Patrick Wheeler (the always appreciated Ben Foster) in the crossfire, Bob steps up and does what he sees as noble: he takes the blame, and he’s sentenced to 25 years for the deed. As time goes by, Ruth gives birth to Bob’s daughter – Sylvie (Jacklynn Smith) – and Bob breaks out of prison, bound and determined to be reunited with his family. But can their love survive in a landscape that only sees them as criminals?
Filmdom loves to tell the stories of doomed love amongst thieves, and that’s basically what you get with AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS. For all of the effort Lowery, Affleck and even Keith Carradine (in a small role as Ruth’s neighborly benefactor) put into this, I personally just didn’t care for any of these characters. Mara’s performance is the only thing here that felt legitimate – her character has a full arc as she slowly begins to realize that the girl she was at the start of this entire affair is a far cry from the young, single mother toward the end – but everyone else seriously seemed to be wandering fairly aimlessly from one scene to the next, one line to the next, and it all felt forced down my throat.
Yes, yes, yes. The film is exquisitely photographed, and every small detail is given a layer of depth; still, in the final estimation, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was being force fed a portrait of the doomed love affair while still not caring about the actual relationship. Gone was the romance; there never appeared a legitimate spark between Ruth and Bob – much of who they are as a couple is delivered in a handful of scenes at the onset before they’re suddenly fleeing the police and the main thrust of the story is set in motion. Because I didn’t accept that they were in love, I had no overwhelming desire to see them unified once more.
While I’m nitpicking, would it have been too much for a viewer to ask that Lowery had his cast actually speak two shakes louder than a whisper? Everyone goes about in this motion picture saying every line as though it’s immeasurably important, and that just wasn’t the case. From one whispered line to the next raspy one, everything felt too theatrically choreographed for me to accept any of it as real emotion.
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013) is produced by Sailor Bear, Parts and Labor, IFC Films, Evolution Independent, Paradox Entertainment, Primary Productions, Lagniappe Films, and Upload Films. DVD distribution is being handled through MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, SAINTS has the venerable Harvey Weinstein’s name all over it, so you can bet that no expense was spared in bringing the highest quality sights and sounds to the work; there’s some impressive cinematography in there, but there’s also a fair amount of bloat for my tastes. As can be expected these days when a critical darling gets DVD release, there’s a veritable lion’s share of extras here: a making of documentary, deleted scenes, music video, behind-the-scenes short, teasers and trailers, and a separate disc containing director Lowery’s first feature (ST. NICK). So if this film was your cup of tea, then you’re in for hours of additional exploration – kudos to all involved as that’s the kind of package I personally feel more films should get.
RECOMMENDED. I know I’m in the minority with this one – not that there’s anything wrong with it – but AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS felt like one of those rare films that’s constructed entirely to be a critical darling, leaving most of any value to the story lost on the masses. It’s well made. It’s well photographed. It has a few well-rendered moments of poignancy. Still, in the end, all it felt so obviously manufactured that I just couldn’t care even modestly for these people – except for appreciating Mara’s and Foster’s gifts as craftsmen. Everybody else? Meh. They got what they deserved.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with an advance DVD copy of AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
on August 5, 2014
Decent indie drama, with a heartbreaking ending.
I found the story slightly cliché, yet good enough for me to give it 4 solid stars.
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster played their characters perfectly.
Although, I think Casey Affleck has an annoying voice and Ben Foster usually playas characters you love to hate.
It was finally nice to see Keith Carradine in a movie, who I remember from the 1980's films made by Alan Rudolph.
The movie is basically about a young couple in love who engage in criminal activity (sort of a Bonny & Clyde kind of a thing).
One night a robbery goes wrong, and the couple find themselves surrounded by the local cops, a shootout breaks out and
one of the cops (Ben Foster) gets shot. Bob (Casey Affleck) gets send to jail, his pregnant girlfriend Ruth (Rooney Mara) gets off easily,
gives birth to the child, and awaits the return of Bob...
The only part of the movie I did not get, was--- who was the person that hired the bounty hunters?
Was it Skerritt the shop owner? Patrick the cop? Ruth the girlfriend? or was it somebody else, and the fact is kept obscure for a reason.
on January 10, 2014
This is a finely acted, quiet, meditative piece of filmmaking. Smooth and tight editing, atmospheric soundtrack, extremely competent direction. Brings to mind a faster-paced Terrence Malick. Another nice touch is that the cover insert is reversible, with the stronger (and less commercial )design being on the inside (yes, I flipped it).
What is incredibly disappointing is the audio and picture quality of the blu-ray. The darks are muddy to the point where what should be smooth gradients are blotchy and washed out. The whole thing is way over-compressed, perhaps to make room on the disc for the special features (though I kind of doubt it). On top of that the sound mix is atrocious - I had to keep turning the volume up to hear the actors speaking and then turn it down again for the rest of the soundtrack. I haven't seem a blu-ray this bad since Public Enemies (even that wasn't this bad). Now I know why the blu-ray is less expensive than the DVD.
On top of that, the disc case arrived severely cracked - more poor packaging protection from Amazon "Prime."
on February 18, 2016
I saw this movie on Netflix not too long ago and bought it on Amazon for the special features as I mostly try to limit my viewing to festival or art house films. For some reason and I think it is a general feeling out there in audienceland that Rooney Mara can come across as 'unlikeable' for some reason so I thought I would give her another attempt to change that perception. The PR and the written interviews during TGWTDT release and promotion were handled so poorly but you can only place a very small amount of blame on her shoulders if any at all. I didn't care for TGWTDT that much but I think it was more of the directing by a total control freak and general atmosphere of the production that was the problem and 'Side Effects' gave a very unsympathetic view of a person struggling with mental illness but that again was most likely due to the director and story. Anyway, to sum up I liked 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' and found her portrayal of a young single mother in a small Texas town very touching, a smart choice and change of direction for her career.
on February 18, 2014
Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a very artfully done crime drama. It centers around a trio of young people, all involved in a shootout, and what happens to them 4 years after that event. The film has a few holes in the story and is vague at times, but its strengths outweigh those minor flaws. This is a very beautiful looking film. The cinematography is top notch and makes the most of natural light sources. A sparse & mournful score underlines and enhances the picture.
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster turn in terrific performances. Foster yet again proves himself as a powerhouse character actor, completely slipping into the role. If you like your crime movies with more brains than bullets, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is well worth your time.
By the time I got around to seeing this film in a theater, it was already gone, so this Blu ray copy will have to serve the purpose. Young director/writer David Lowery has managed to assemble a remarkably good cast in this dusty tale of outlaw romance set in central Texas.
Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) is a local boy who is in a romantic pairing with Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara). Together with Freddy (filmmaker Kentucker Audley), the trio are robbers and thieves. The story doesn't delve too deeply into this element but during a foiled robbery, Ruth and Bob retreat to their home where they are involved in a shootout with law enforcement. Ruth manages to wing one of the deputies (Ben Foster) but Bob accepts responsibility and quickly surrenders.
A theme that runs throughout the film is the passionate love between Bob and Ruth. In a great scene, shortly after they are captured and cuffed, they walk out to the awaiting police cars bumping and rubbing on each other. Clearly aware, they will not likely be together again anytime soon, this will be their last physical contact. This is fine directing and acting. This emotion is important to the content of the film. In contrast, we get bits and pieces of letters they send to each other later. Both, likely high school dropouts, are eloquent writers.
Bob is sent to prison, but a pregnant Ruth is acquitted. Her adaptive father, Skerritt (wonderful performance by Keith Carradine), allows Ruth and her daughter to live in one of his rental houses. After 4 years, Bob manages to escape from prison and keeping his word, comes to reunite with Ruth and meet his daughter. But the law and apparent bounty hunters suspect as much and await his return. This includes Deputy Wheeler (Foster), the man Ruth actually shot. Wheeler, clearly cares for Ruth and her daughter but she manages to keep him at bay, still in love with Bob.
This film is beautifully shot by Bradford Young with hazy muted scenes, often focused from a low angle. The sets seem perfect for a 1970's Texas although the movie was shot in Shreveport, LA. The story is simple, but the technical achievements are worth noting as well as the convincing portrayals by the cast. I believe this is Rooney Mara's most compelling performance so far in her young career. She has the Texas drawl down pat and delivers a nuanced character with emotion and fervor. Some will feel the film too depressing and too slow. And I would agree, it does languish on occasion. I would have also liked to have seem a bit more background as to why our couple decided on a life of crime to begin with. Still this is a beautifully made film both technically and artistically. A very Terrence Malick-like feel.
The Blu ray disc has a 1080p transfer and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. As noted earlier it looks terrific. Shot with 35mm film, often in low light, the picture can occasionally be constrained but I believe this is intentional and not the problem with the transfer. I saw no issues in that regard. It had excellent contrast and good skin tones. The audio has a couple options. There is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and an uncompressed PCM 2.0. This isn't a movie that is going to challenge surrounds but there are a few scenes involving gunfire that make good use of the effect. I also like the musical soundtrack to this film (Daniel Hart) and thought it played clearly throughout. Subtitles are available in Spanish and English SDH. Here are the extras:
*Untitled Ross Brothers Documentary (SD, 13:22)
*Deleted Scenes (HD, 8:59)
*The Lights (HD, 3:32): A music video by Keith Carradine.
*Behind the Scenes (HD, 4:48)
*Trailer (HD, 2:29)
*Bob Muldoon Teaser (HD, 00:53)
*Ruth Guthrie Teaser (HD, 00:48)
*Color Bars (HD, 2:53): Includes some bloopers and outtakes.
*St. Nick (SD, 1:24:44): Lowery's undistributed 2009 feature.
Here is a review of "St. Nick" included in this package:
3.5 Stars: This is a nice surprise and an added extra to the "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" film on Blu ray. It was director/writer David Lowery's first film. The film was shot mostly in and around Fort Worth and won Lowery some awards at various film festivals. "St. Nick" almost serves as a prequel of sorts to his larger film from 2012.
In this film we have a boy of about 12 and a girl of about 9. The siblings are only referenced as The Boy and The Girl and are played by Tucker and Savanna Sears. They appear to be running away from home but we don't know why. They take shelter in a dilapidated and empty house, crawling through a broken window. The house isn't in some remote area, it is in a neighborhood, albeit a run down one. The kids appear to be well cared for. The Boy even has braces, which interestingly, he removes using some wire cutters. The pair scrounge for food, dumpster diving, shoplifting and the girl even stumbles upon a girl's birthday party and invites herself for cake.
When they are discovered and kicked out by the owner of the home, they take shelter in an abandon church in a more rural setting, having trekked some distance with their belongings packed in a large sack. There's not much of a plot, but we keep asking ourselves why they are leaving. An argument, parental discourse, abandonment, foster home? We don't know until the end and it's not what we might fear.
Along the way, Lowery and his cinematographer Clay Liford show a remarkable vison of the children's flight. Shot mostly with hand-held cameras the look is intriguing. The film has very little dialog, mostly when the kids engage adults. "St. Nick" isn't a great film but a fascinating one and shows the promise of Lowery's insight and filmmaking. A terrific bonus to an excellent Blu ray package.
on August 14, 2014
And this is coming from a Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Rooney Mara fan! I love a good story and this probably is but it trudged along like a pregnant hippo. So appallingly slow. I may have drifted off at some point but I don't think fate would let me. If I try to tell you the plotline, I may get bored again. Read the description and you decide...I say wait til you get it for free.
on December 28, 2013
This was a great movie and the acting by Affleck and Mara was impeccable! There is a lot that is unsaid but understood between the characters so if you like/need a lot of dialogue you may want a different movie. The performances were amazing and the story kept me hooked the whole time. There was a little bit of everything like action, suspense, romance, and drama. I would have loved for the movie to be 20 minutes longer and to see more of Mara and Affleck in the same scenes together, but neither was needed to make it a very emotional and powerful movie. This has got to be one of my favorite indie movies! I'd recommend this to anyone looking for an emotional drama with great acting.