Ain't Them Bodies Saints Reviews
Very good Film! Good story which needs some touching up, but the acting is first rate. It is a character study, a study in melancholy told in real, human terms and not in movie terms. And maybe that is its only flaw, that truth be told, real life is less dramatic and more grimy than make-believe. This is another triumph for Rooney Mara who is excellent as a strong, young woman who desires a better life and a man who can't get it for her. There's great irony in the way events turn out for her and it's all totally believable. I was also impressed with Casey Affleck's performance as her lover and small time criminal. Perhaps the film veers too closely at times toward stylish vagueness and too far from the broken heart of the story. But there is no denying this is a serious, authored work of art.
The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
The dead-on pacing allows for the deep development of four characters in a relatively short runtime; the cast helps too. This has to be the best acted ensemble of the year. Keith Carradine does way more with his on-screen time than I expected. Ben Foster's ultra-restraint and Rooney Mara's nurturing, conflicted mother/wife deserve special mention.
When I say everything, I do mean everything. The score, the cinematography, the direction, the writing, the editing. None of it is overly flashy. What they all do in unison is build around the characters, giving a timeless feel to the story. A story which may have been told before, but examined by David Lowery through a different lens, focusing on the quieter moments.
The film follows an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. The film stars Casey Affleck as Bob Muldoon and Rooney Mara as Ruth Guthrie, and they did enough of their good acting to satisfy most of the film lovers... there was nothing wrong there. Ben Foster is excellent as a local sheriff with an eye for Ruth and Keith Carradine proves himself yet again to be one of our finest performers - acting was the best part. My big problem was David Lowery! I don't like directors who involve themselves in self-indulgence forgetting that there is audience out there... ok, I'll admit that sometimes they are so good, that you can forgive them and enjoy so much that everything is all right and you walk out of the cinema smiling at the end. But, this is only David Lowery's second feature film... Someone noticed that David Lowery hasn't made a movie so much as he's made an imitation of one! Amazingly stunning visuals will bring to you the sepia-toned mood but you will never have needed narrative coherence to be immersed in all the events and feel as a part of it - one of the critics wrote that this is "a film that tries to mimic the style of Terrence Malick and succeeds only too well". Like I didn't had enough with one self-indulgent prick and I needed another "mini-Me" prick...
What really separates Ain't Them Bodies Saints is the mature filmmaking. Scenes are allowed to build organically, the characters are allowed to distinguish themselves on screen, tension is built through the narrative. The story itself, though a simple one, is used to excellent effect, exploring themes of love, loss, fate, and morality. We are given characters to follow that are nuanced. There is no straight protagonist or antagonist, just flawed characters living in a flawed world, trying to defy the odds. The dialogue is captured brilliantly, with its rich, yet simple, texture and poignant nature. This is accentuated by the phenomenal performances of Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, who have amazing chemistry, and are yet able to anchor every scene they are in. The film's one major flaw is not pairing them on screen together enough, but such is largely the nature of the story.
The cinematography with this film is amazing, evoking comparisons to Terrence Malick, and other maturely visual directors. Every scene holds a beauty and an apprehension, with director David Lowery finding the pitch perfect tone. He creates a world that is mesmerizing, alluring, but also foreboding. Everything about the film is intelligent, from its execution to its composition, making it a truly enthralling experience.
Overall, a hidden gem for the year.
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
Casey Affleck was good here. I like when he plays roles like this one as well as Assassination of Jessie James and Killer Inside Me. I still think his best role was in the Killer Inside Me. Rooney Mara was ok, but I think another actress in that role would have done a better job. I believe Natalie Portman would have nailed the role. Mara has no on screen chemistry with Affleck, in my opinion. Ben Foster is great in his role.
Overall, the film is worth checking out for the performances in it.
The Good: The Structure - Lowery's film features a loose narrative structure, which is disorienting at first, but once you get in time with the rhythm, the pacing elevates it to another level. By slowly revealing key facts to the plot, Lowery is able to maintain the interest of the audience over its deliberate pace.
The performances - The three stars, Mara, Affleck, and Foster, overwhelm with their restrained performances. It would have been easy to overact in a film that deals with issues this outlandish, but the entire cast is able to bring a level of humanity to the story that wouldn't exist otherwise.
Tragic romance - What works best here is the sense of despair and tragedy that permeates the film. From Lowery's screenplay to his direction to the performances on screen, everything works together to pit these characters against desperate circumstances, and make us want it to all work out, even though we know it won't.
Poetry on Film - From the dialogue to the, near, poetic structure of the film to the visuals on screen, Ain't Them Bodies Saints feels more like a work of poetry than a narrative. And just like good poetry exposition is handled in a way that doesn't feel boring, and emotions are conveyed artistically rather than simply stated. All of this works to craft a more intense emotional experience.
The Bad: Not much bad to talk about here.
The Smugly (Movie snob nitpicks): No tension - For a thriller, or simply a drama about an escaped convict, there was no tension in the film. It was beautiful, it was dramatic, but there wasn't much tension. Even in the scenes where I knew Lowery was trying to make me hold my breath, it didn't work. This, of course, doesn't ruin the film, but it would have been even better had this been possible.