Ain't Them Bodies Saints
I don’t know much about David Lowery, but I bet he owns Badlands and Days of Heaven on DVD – or Blu-Ray, if Ain’t Them Bodies Saints does well. His script and direction touch greatly upon Terrence Malick, and I'm also at fault for not lasting more than a sentence before making a comparison.
Set in Texas in the 1970s, the drama detaches itself from modern stresses by focusing on two separated lovers, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. The minimal story is one of heartbreak surrounded by sundrenched shots of nature and Western bareness. After a botched robbery, Affleck takes the blame for Mara and is subsequently locked up in a cell. Shortly afterwards, Mara gives birth to his daughter; he discovers years later, which prompts a painfully slow attempt to escape.
Detachment is the key expression. Lowery forgoes a Malick-esque voiceover, leaving emotions to simmer in the heat. The dialogue is sparse, except for lines like Affleck declaring, “I used to be the devil, but now I’m a man.” It becomes a very long, drawn out tone poem that should perhaps be watched at a sunset rather than a cinema.
Everything seems in place for a critic-proof Sundance success story, yet the characters are too removed. Even when jigsaw pieces slot together, you wish there was something less artificial than a finely constructed image. Mara is particularly inexpressive in a role that amounts to lying on a sofa looking miserable, occasionally stroking a kitten. When a curious lawman becomes involved, it’s apparent that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is little more than a competent genre exercise.
Lowery’s IMDb page reveals he edited Upstream Color, which is so far my favourite film of 2013. In Shane Carruth’s alluring nightmare, flashes of abstract images are sharply juxtaposed into a whirlwind of confusion and subconscious connections. However, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is too one-tone and, while occasionally pretty, is hindered by empty characters. Mara sums it up when she whimpers, “I haven’t slept in four years, and I’m tired.”
United States of America
96 mins approx