Writer-director David Lowery’s Sundance hit ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ is a moody crime drama about tragic love. The moment the lights dim in the theater, you sense that you are witnessing the birth of a talented filmmaker. While the brilliant cinematography of Bradford Young gives the film a Terrence Malick feel, Lowery’s script of doomed lovers makes it more accessible to moviegoers. As Young states in a recent interview, “The ‘Saints’ script serves as a blueprint for telling a story rooted in human nature, in which people’s actions are governed by their innate desires, rather than by some other superficial motivation.” This poetic melodrama is indie filmmaking at its best.
Granted, some may feel the pacing of the film is slow but that’s Lowery’s intention. He allows the story to organically unfold through strong character-driven performances from its ensemble cast. Set in 1970’s Texas, Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) play an outlaw couple whose luck has finally run out. Barricaded in an old farmhouse, they have a shoot-out with local police. When one officer is left seriously injured, Bob takes the blame and is sent to prison. Through an exchange of poignant love letters, we learn Bob is sentenced to 25 years. While serving his time, Ruth gives birth to their beautiful daughter.
Bob dreams of reuniting with his family and seeing his daughter grow up. Ruth still loves Bob and vows to wait for him to return home. Lowery’s dual narrative works well. The story cohesively deals with Ruth trying to bring up her daughter as a single mother and Bob’s dogged determination to get back to his family. He soon escapes from jail and this sets events in motion that conspire against him. Local townsfolk are not happy that Bob is on the lam. They are willing to do whatever it takes to keep them apart. Two in particular that want to keep Ruth and her daughter Silvie away from Bob is the injured cop Patrick (Ben Foster) who befriends her and her adopted father Skerrit (Keith Carradine). Carradine’s performance is dark and impressive. Foster is solid too as a compassionate cop.
For any budding filmmaker or cinephile, this film should be required viewing. Quite simply, it is a stylish piece of work. Shot on 35MM film, the cinematography is breathtaking. It is one of the best uses of natural lighting I’ve seen in a film since Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life.’ The decision not to use any artificial lighting gives it a haunting tone. The scenes in Ruth’s house were lit almost entirely with house lamps. The scenes between Bob and Ruth are moving. Lowery and Young achieve just the right amount of emotion through the use of lighting, camera movement and performances from the lead actors. Mara continues to impress me with her film choices. She does a good job showing her evolution from a thoughtless girl to tired young mother looking after the best interests of her daughter. Affleck’s performance is a surprising revelation as the delusional romantic.
‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ is an impressive debut feature film for Lowery. The brilliant cinematography and slow-building narrative make it a must-see for indie film lovers. ‘Saints’ is now playing exclusively at The Flicks in downtown Boise and a local art house cinema near you. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/ga0c0v-stK0.