You know, there are ways to tastefully play with rural dialect that can either be clever or just kind of stupid, and this film's title... well, kind of leans more towards the former, because it appears to be too intelligent for me to figure it out. I can't really figure out if it's referring the corpses of saints, or the leads as saints, or something, but then again, it would be easier to figure out this title if they were to promote the premise more. Jokes aside, I've seen the occasional TV spot of this, and that's more than you get with a lot of films this low-profile, although, if I remember correctly, most, if not all of those TV spots may have been on IFC, and I can't think of too many people outside of myself who would spring for the cable package that has the "Independent Film Channel". The title, alone, is above people's heads... apparently, so I doubt this thing will be all that much of a commercial success, which isn't to say that that's a tremendously bad thing, as this project only stars Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster. I understand that those three names, alone, seem pricy, but come on, people, Affleck is still not far enough away from his brother's shadow to earn big bucks, Mara is a young enough actress to still have some of that integrity nonsense, and, really, is Foster still that relevant? Well, this cast seems to at least be recognizable enough to fit into David Lowery's formula that attempts to, I don't know, rip off Terrence Malick, only with much less abstract pretentiousness and a little less... compellingness. Malick can make a pretty engaging snoozefest, yet Lowery, on the other hand, can deliver on a decent film, but can't keep it from slipping deeper into underwhelmingness than the consistency in Ben Foster's relevance.
Being about as, if not more meditative on stylistic depths as it is on the depths of substance, this film is almost surprisingly very underdeveloped, doing little to flesh out the depths of a story that is told too messily to compensate for underdevelopment, and may even be a little too recognizable. The story is worthy, if undercooked and limited in meat, yet this subject matter is still a little too familiar for its own good, with a plotting approach that is about as formulaic, and even limp in areas. Now, this film is not quite as slow as I feared it would be, but there are still many moments of scripted limpness and directorial atmospheric dryness that are decisively at their worst during the artistically lyrical moments in storytelling, which are beautifully done and all, but kind of distancing in their overstylizing storytelling with aimlessness. Of course, with all of my joking about this sometimes being a Terrence Malick rip-off, the moments of abstract lyricism aren't as overused as I expected, and that would be great and all if the limitations in decisiveness between traditionalist and abstract storytelling didn't present its own problem by driving inconsistency into narrative style, whose focus is also shaken by many a moment of cutting through the aimless fat around the edges in order to leap to highlights in plot, rather than take time to meditate upon the depths of this narrative's progression. There are plenty of times in which focus fades almost completely, and let me tell you, less aimless meditativeness and more attention to substance flesh-out are needed to overshadow certain natural shortcomings, which do indeed stand, for on top of being conventional, this story is simple, no matter how much David Lowery pumps the effort with a feel of ambition that makes limitations and other, more consequential shortcomings all the more glaring. There are some strong elements throughout this effort, but alas, Lowery's passion to bite off more than he can chew makes it impossible to disregards limitations, as well as mistakes, of which there are enough to make this potentially memorable drama arguably forgettable, and decidedly underwhelming. Nonetheless, while the film is misguided in too many ways to escape underwhelmingness, let alone achieve a rewarding status, there is a good bit of heart here, and there's no denying that when inspiration delivers, at least aesthetically.
Artistically, the film truly stands out, even when it comes to musical artistry, because even though Daniel Hart's score is kind of conventional in a lot of ways, and sometimes rather annoying with all of the playful pats and hand claps, it's generally fairly refreshing, with a subtly piercing, minimal classical soul that is not only gorgeous by its own aesthetic right, but near-hauntingly complimentary to the atmosphere, which is generally driven by quietness. Being dryly underexploratory, this film doesn't plays with Hart's score too much as a key artistic compliment to atmosphere, which is mostly powered by a visual style that cinematographer Bradford Young anchors with consistent handsomeness, with stunningly well-realized moments in the celebration of hypnotically warm emphasis on slightly gritting lighting which sells the southern gothic feel of this art drama, and is just plain beautiful on its own. Stylistically, the film is pretty outstanding, - particularly with its remarkable visual style - so much so that style does a lot to sustain your investment through all of the faults in substance, which, in all fairness, is still worthy to a certain degree. This story concept is unevenly approached and familiar, as well as limited with its meat, yet it remains worthy, with the heart of romantic drama and the grit of slow-burn thriller, both of which are often sold by highlights in direction by David Lowery that utilizes anything from style to effective moments in atmosphere to compel. Needless to say, there's not as much consistency in assurance to the newcoming Lowery's efforts as there probably should be, carrying quite a few storytelling issues to undercut kick in a lot of ways, yet Lowery's offscreen performance still sustains enough inspiration to endear and sometimes grip, even if it's not as consistent with effectiveness as the inspired onscreen performances. Yes, even the considerable deal of acting potential here is limited, but this strong cast still fails only at disappointing, as there is convincing chemistry and portrayals across the board, especially when it comes to the leads, with Casey Affleck being subtly intense as a man on the run from the law, to a beloved family that he could very well lose, while Rooney Mara proves to be subtly layered in her endearing portrayal of an outlaw's lover whose life finds itself thrown in all sorts of direction when old and potentially new romances drawn closer to clashing. This thriller isn't quite thrilling enough to provide this cast the opportunity to really shine, but most everyone is quite good, if not strong, and that's enough to make the onscreen inspiration pretty key as a compliment to the offscreen inspiration which keeps the final product endearing, no matter how much effectiveness goes limited.
When it's all said and done, the narrative is underdeveloped, formulaic and even limited in meat, whose limitations go further stressed by an unevenness in pacing and style, and a consistency in overambition that give you plenty of time and opportunities to soak up the shortcomings that prove to be just enough to drive the final product into underwhelmingness, challenged enough by excellent score work, outstanding cinematography, generally reasonably inspired storytelling and solid acting to make "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" an almost lyrical art drama that endears, regardless of its flaws.
2.5/5 - Fair