As the big blockbusters of the summer wind down we will almost immediately be thrown into the frenzy of awards season. IFC Films and first time director David Lowery are here to ease the transition though with their film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”
A meditating film, uncomplicated and easy on the eyes – the perfect medicine after the monsters and superheroes of summer -- and an effective prep for the awards bait coming in the following months. Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster give fine performances and a solid display of craftsmanship standout in the pleasing film, but it is unable to take that next step that would make it truly great.
Director David Lowery’s past work as an editor, including work in this year’s “Upstream Color,” is on clear display here as he masterfully paces this story. It moves at a brisk pace but never feels rushed; it takes a close examination of these characters but never drags. Between that and the cinematography, which won a special prize at Sundance where the film premiered, Lowery clearly has the nuts and bolts of filmmaking down pat.
Lowery’s work here brings to mind the early of films of Terrence Malick. It’s easy on the eyes, which is especially nice after a summer of chaotic and hard to follow action sequences, and the story unfolds with the audience watching from a little farther away. Rather than being privy to every intimate detail the story kicks-back and lets the audience work it out for themselves.
The same laidback attitude comes through in the performances of the three main characters, played by Mara, Affleck and Foster. None of them have a scene where they yell and scream their emotions out to the world. We have to work a little more to understand them, but each actor makes the job a little easier for us with their strong performances. Keith Carradine’s imposing supporting turn also deserves some notice.
It’s hard to have any qualms with how the story plays out. The character’s actions are all entirely justifiable and believable, there are no glaring plot holes (if any), it’s just flat out well executed. But there is something missing that keeps it from reaching that next level. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the story settled.
You can easily compare it to what happens in the film, where Mara makes the safer pick of Ben Foster’s character rather than the more questionable one of Affleck. But by not going with the latter, it misses out on possibly more exciting and a much stronger film.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” will probably fall somewhere in the middle of the pack looking back at 2013. However, when you look at the careers of Mara, Affleck, Foster or Lowery this will be a film on their resume that will be looked at fondly.