Some films come in like a hurricane, devouring us with frame after frame of intended poignancy. Other films take their time to develop something that feels soft and languid and subtly envelopes the audience into a story they cannot shake because it feels so authentic, so lived in and so honest.
The opening frames to ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ shows two sun-kissed lovers, Ruth and Bob, as they have an unidentified argument and Ruth threatens leaving. Bob offers to walk her to her mothers, since it is too far for her to walk on her own. In his playful, pleading, loving manner he wins her back without much of a fight and she falls into his arms, pretending to struggle yet you know that she is more than willing to take him back and forget this ever happened.
Besides, she’s pregnant.
Thus starts with beautiful and haunting tale of love in the midst of adversity, some self-made and others heaped upon you by forces unknown. In the next few minutes their life spirals out of control in small vignettes that give us just enough information to keep the focus of this film clear. Circumstances surrounding a lot of what happens is left open-ended, ambiguous and detail-light. This way we continue to set our sights on the important things; like Ruth and Bob’s relationship. A botched ‘job’ sends Ruth, Bob and their semi-adopted brother into hiding in the home Bob and Ruth share. As police fire rings overhead, the three try and work out a gameplan, but shots are exchanged, death corrodes the atmosphere and both Ruth and Bob are taken into custody.
This is where the guts of the film come to bare their soul.
Bob is taken to prison, while Ruth is let off to raise her daughter on her own. The two correspond as much as they can through letters, but when Bob escapes prison things become complicated. Bob obviously wants to return home to collect his wife and child, but the police are extra alert to activity in the area and are determined to bring him down. Things become even more complicated when one of those police officers, Patrick Wheeler, becomes emotionally attached to Ruth and her daughter. Ruth’s confusion over her own feelings and what she deems best for her daughter makes matters much worse, especially when Bob starts to reach out to her, suggesting they run off together.
With hints of ‘Romeo + Juliet’ laced in a package that resembles early Malick, David Lowery’s ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ is a real treasure. From a technical angle, this film thrives in worn set pieces and clothes and facial expressions that are basked in such beautiful light one can’t help but feel endeared to them. The film’s visual structure reminded me a lot of ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven’, early Malick where the grit of the atmosphere was embellished by the lustful camera lens. But that isn’t where the similarities end. ‘Aint’ Them Bodies Saints’ carries with it a deeply rooted overlay of emotions and character developments that are subtle and simple and expressed through sequences of few words and heavy atmospheric tones that are brought to life by an array of factors; from the score to the cinematography to the astounding performances that grace every single frame.
This says a lot to the strength of the director. I’m in love with this new wave of directors who are more concerned with telling a story well than with delivering easily digestible moneymakers. Look at Steve McQueen for example. His films are difficult, artistic and have value. I’ve only seen this one film from David Lowery, but if this any indication then he’s going to be one to watch.
Casey Affleck, complete with his cool demeanor, and Rooney Mara are excellent as the lovers torn asunder by circumstance. Their chemistry, even when they are apart (which is the majority of the film) is beautiful and really speaks to the core of the film. If you didn’t believe they were that deeply affected by their own love for one another, this film would not work, but you shiver at the sight of Mara’s own tears. The pair of supporting players in Ben Foster and Keith Carradine are the real joys here though. Their intentions serve as a foundation for the film’s action, and they both carry their tortured centers with such authenticity. Ben Foster is especially effective in his interactions with Mara, and his “I only see good” speech brought me to tears.
It was embarrassing, but I owned it.
Love is a tricky thing, and time passes in a way that can either strengthen or dampen that love, but more than anything else, time can wizen us up to what that love has done to us. With both Bob and Ruth, time has deepened their resolve to do what is best for their futures, but their lives have spiraled into two separate directions and so their ideas of the future are drastically different.
I was floored by this film. I easily give it an A+ and add it to my list of masterpieces this year. WHAT?!?! This year has been so strong so far. Even the films that have failed to get that + from me are still outstanding. In fact, time has settled some films with me and have caused me to consider some of them (‘Spring Breakers’ to be exact) deserving of that +. As far as Oscar is concerned, this is sadly going to get nothing, but it does have Weinstein and you’d think that he would try and use this to garner a Supporting Actor mention, since he doesn’t have any real contenders in that category as of yet and both Foster and Carradine are beyond deserving here (why can’t we double-dip here instead of Supporting Actress this year?). Still, it is not going to happen.