It’s hard to ignore a film like ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ that gives a story stemming from love and crime a certain softness. Director David Lowery impresses with the elegance he sets to the Texan story of a couple involved in a crime early in the film that lands Bob (Casey Affleck) in prison while Ruth (Rooney Mara) waits for him as she raises their daughter he’s never met. After he escapes from prison and attempts a journey to reunite with the family he yearns for, the complications he meets adds the hopeful ring to our minds that his impatience might be soon solved. Deeply romantic as Ruth and Bob love at a distance, the agonizing over his hopeful return and doubt of what it would mean for the family is surprisingly reeled in to a hum that lingers just under the surface. “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ is able to maintain a sense of peace despite the angst of loving an outlaw.
The performances of ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ are ripe. Keith Carradine as Skerritt, the man who nearly fathered Ruth and Bob as kids and who’s son was killed during the shootout that sends Bob away, shows a restraint and confidence of character that makes him possibly the most convincing role. Nothing like ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,’ Mara envelops a whole new persona as Ruth that mixes maternal instinct with a honed strength of independence. She’s able to flip the switch and with her level of diversity, she does not disappoint. Affleck gives us, if not just from his gaze, Bob’s earnest desire to win back his family, although his mumbling leaves us short a few phrases. Lowery puts a focus on each character that attaches us further to them, even the cop Patrick (Ben Foster) who’s on the case after Bob while trying to win over Ruth with almost pitiable hesitation, but great kindness.
The elements of style surrounding the cast falls into place immediately. Cinematographer Bradford Young captures light you could nearly touch, like a Terrence Malick signature when scenes are backlit, giving the film a natural feel. The rhythmic musical score keeps up to the pace in our chests, like hands clapping that could read as either tension or ease. We’re engaged emotionally as we see flashbacks that tie Ruth’s connection to Bob even further and hear written letters voiced over to fix us in closer to a poetic script. Bob’s words, “Every day I wake up thinking today’s the day I’m gonna see you. And one of those days it will be so. And then we can ride off to somewhere, somewhere far away” give passion and evidence to the bond that carries the film. The story’s premise isn’t altogether complicating, and Lowery keeps it that way nicely with a greater reliance on character focus and attention to scenery and detail. ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,’ although its director can be compared to others like Malick, develops with its own calm pace that doesn’t race the story down a beaten path to a predictable end: it finds its way without force, but with breath after breath of fresh air.