You might leave the movie theatre thinking “what the H was that?” But immediately afterwards you’ll be saying, “Man, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara were terrific.” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” written and directed by David Lowery, has a very Terrence Malick feel to it in term of pacing, photography and scope. That’s not always a good thing, but outstanding acting saves the movie from its own weight.
We’re never told, but the film looks to be set in the late 60s or early 70s in the hills of Texas. Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are young lovers who also happen to be thieves. In an attempted robbery gone wrong, Ruth wounds lawman Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster). Bob takes the fall for the pregnant Ruth and goes to prison, promising Ruth he’ll be back for her.
In prison, Bob writes Ruth beautiful letters, reaffirming his commitment to her and it’s there that he learns that Ruth has given birth to a daughter. While he’s in prison, Ruth goes about raising her daughter under the not too distant watch of her neighbor and benefactor, Skerritt (Keith Carradine). We’re never sure what Skerritt’s intentions are, but it’s clear he’s got a thing for Ruth. Ruth has also caught the eye of Wheeler, although he’s unaware that she was the person who shot him. When Bob breaks out of prison, all of these lives intersect yet again.
Casey Affleck has yet to give a bad performance, even in something as inane as “Ocean’s Eleven.” But he really shines in small, moody pieces and he is superb in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” Rooney Mara is every bit Affleck’s equal, portraying vulnerability and toughness at the same time. The two of them play off one another beautifully.
The film’s supporting cast is extremely good. Carradine is right at home in the Texas hills and this enigmatic role fits him to a tee. Foster is terrific as Ruth’s shy suitor. And, finally, Nate Parker as Bob’s friend, Sweetie, and Rami Malek as the scared man forced to help Bob with his escape, give outstandingly real performances of friendship and fear.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” isn’t always easy to follow, but the film’s phenomenal acting will make you glad you came and stuck it out.