‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ is one of those movies where everyone’s dirt poor and dressed like a hick – but in a fashiony way that could pass in Dalston. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play lovers hellbent on killing, like Bonnie and Clyde. This is 1970s Texas. And writer-director David Lowery is trying hard to make the Great American Film.
The shadow of Terrence Malick (‘The Tree of Life’) so often hangs over such films, and this has its fair share of corn-wafting-in-the-wind- at-sunset scenes. But it’s fiercer – a slow, banjo-string-tight thriller. Affleck is Bob, a dumb kid with big dreams, born for the electric chair. Mara is Ruth, his pregnant girlfriend. When the police ambush their hideout after a robbery, it’s Ruth who injures an officer (Ben Foster) in a shootout. There’s a hypnotic scene as the lovers are marched out in handcuffs. Bob takes the rap and Ruth promises to wait out his 25-year sentence. When he escapes, she’s a hardworking single mum. And that cop she shot has been sniffing around looking all soulful and sad-faced.
Mara gives her best performance yet as Ruth. She’s a closed book. Is she waiting for Bob? Or have four years of sleepless nights bringing up her daughter knocked those teenage, me-and-you-against-the-world ideas of doomed love out of her system? Is she the most heartless one here? ‘Bodies’ gets under your skin and stays there. And the gospel handclapping soundtrack feels like it’s drawing you into a dream.
Cast and crew
This film tries really hard to say something meaningful, but never manages to do so. With a low-key script, acting and direction, most of the film is conveyed by mood, gesture and small town scenery. But, instead of drawing the viewer in with atmosphere, it drains you with its sluggishness and cow-like passivity. After 30 minutes or so, it's clear nothing of significance is going to happen here, the monotony having pretty much taken over. Simple stories and directing often lead to a cool film, but what you have here is a simple cast, and, simply, no real story.