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Ain't Them Bodies Saints is Beautiful but Exhausting

<i>Ain't Them Bodies Saints</i> is Beautiful but Exhausting

DVD Release Date: December 17, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: August 16, 2013 (limited)
Rating: Not Rated (see Cautions below)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Kennadie Smith, Jacklynn Smith, Nate Parker

With a decidedly impressionistic approach that can’t help but draw comparisons to Terrence Malick, writer/director David Lowery has fashioned a truly beautiful film about an outlaw who apparently wants nothing more than to reunite with his wife and the young daughter he’s never met.

Trouble is, while Lowery has clearly invested in getting the details right—the dusty Texas backdrop, the folksy longings of a man who clearly misses his beloved—Ain’t Them Bodies Saints doesn’t offer the viewer anything new in what’s pretty well-worn storytelling territory.

As elegant and bathed in the perfect amount of morning sunlight as everything is, one still can’t shake the feeling that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is the exhaustive visual equivalent of a sad country song.

Playing Bob Muldoon, Casey Affleck (Tower Heist) is a bank robber who is sparring with his wife, Ruth (Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) in the opening scene. Given their hushed whispers and concerned looks, it’s clear that whatever’s bothering them isn’t because someone forgot to pick up the milk at the local Piggly Wiggly. This is a serious talk in serious drawls, and only the beginning of one doomed love story.

See, this pair happens to be of the Bonnie & Clyde variety, and since their latest job didn’t go so well, they’re now contemplating their next steps. Adding an extra layer to the escalating drama is that Ruth, the driver of the getaway car who winds up shooting a deputy (Ben Foster, Contraband), happens to be pregnant. Thrilled about the impending arrival, Bob quickly decides he’ll take the rap.

When he’s not plotting an early escape from prison, Bob writes Ruth those aching words of devotion that provide the lion’s share of the film’s dialogue. As for Ruth, she’s finding it more and more difficult to reciprocate. While Ruth cares about Bob and feels bad that he’s suffering instead of her, she just can’t find the words to describe everything’s she been experiencing, especially as a new mother. After giving birth to their adorable daughter Sylvie (played by twins Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith), Ruth tries her best to move on since she doesn’t know when—or if—Bob will make his way back to her.

Without heading into serious spoiler territory, it’s safe to say there are a few surprises in how everything turns out in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Both Affleck and Rooney are skilled actors who do the best with what they’re given, but with so little character development and actual plot, it’s difficult getting invested in their plight. Not even a subplot involving the old man (Keith Carradine, Cowboys & Aliens) who raised Bob provides any clarity or excitement.

If anything, watching Ain’t Them Bodies Saints reminded me of a far better family tragedy I reviewed earlier this year, The Place Beyond the Pines. No doubt, the scenery was not filmed in such breathtaking splendor, nor was the soundtrack nearly as poetic or memorable. But the storytelling was fresh, inventive and far more compelling, which is exactly what makes Ain’t Them Bodies Saints so frustrating to watch. Talented actors and gorgeous visuals can only carry a movie so far, after all.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking depicted
  • Language/Profanity: A single “f” bomb, plus a couple of instances where God’s name is paired with da--.
  • Sex/Nudity: A brief, non-graphic scene of childbirth. A man admits he has feelings for a married woman. She rests her head on his shoulder, but there’s no implied sexual encounter.
  • Violence: References to bank robberies and prison escapes. Several scenes involving gunfire lead to fatalities and bloody wounds of varying degrees. A man on the run forces a couple of different civilians to give him a ride by pointing a gun to their head.

Christa Banister is an author and full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the MeddlersBased in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.

Publication date: August 6, 2013