Evoking the past seems to be popular in Hollywood right now, with a number of recent films paying homage to a bygone era as well as being shot in the style of the time. Not only does Ain’t Them Bodies Saints evoke the spirit of the ‘70s, it also pays it dues to one of the era’s most influential indie directors: Terrence Malick and Robert Altman.
When a robbery goes wrong, young lovers Bob (Casey Affleck) and the pregnant Ruth (Rooney Mara) find themselves separated. Alone in prison, Bob dreams of seeing his love and their daughter for the first time, whilst Ruth tries to move on with her life. When he escapes from prison, Ruth awaits his inevitable appearance with a sense of anticipation and dread, whilst slowly opening herself to the advances of caring sheriff who she shot Patrick (Ben Foster).
Whilst much has been made about the similarities with Malick’s work (particularly Badlands), this is mainly true on a stylistic level. Aint Them Bodies Saints owes a much greater debt to the work of Altman in terms of pacing, plotting and character study. The three leads are all excellent, with Mara’s performance being particularly impressive. However, Keith Carradine steals every scene he’s in as the grizzly and enigmatic Skerritt.
In stark contrast to modern thrillers, don’t expect constant dull stream of action sequences separated by vacuous dialogue, David Lowery’s film is a slow-burning drama which follows on from his earlier meditations into the human character: what makes good and evil, bodies and saints. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a poetic lullaby set to the backdrop of a story of young love. Bob is the fallen embodiment of innocence, easily lead astray, whilst Patrick stands for goodness and purity. Ruth stands on a moral impasse, torn between the two.
Lowery’s film was developed at the Sundance Institute’s Writing and Producing Labs and showcases the talent on a young film-maker who, whilst paying homage to the New Wave of American film-making, is charting his own course along the lyrical highway of modern independent film-making.
Aint Them Bodies Saints is out now at the Showroom Cinema