Ain't Them Bodies Saints (15)

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Review byMatthew Turner04/09/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Ain't Them Bodies Saints features strong central performances and plays like a note-perfect Terrence Malick pastiche thanks to assured direction from writer-director David Lowery, though the languid pacing, lack of plot and ill-defined supporting characters are occasionally frustrating.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by David Lowery (who edited Upstream Colour), Ain't Them Bodies Saints is set in 1970s Texas and stars Casey Affleck as small-time criminal Bob Muldoon, who goes to prison after a botched bank robbery during which his pregnant wife Ruthie (Rooney Mara) injures a cop (Ben Foster as Patrick) in a shoot-out. To save Ruthie, Bob tells the police that he shot Patrick and ends up with a life sentence.

Four years later, Bob escapes from prison and desperately tries to get in touch with Ruthie and the daughter he has never seen (played by Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith), but his (sort of) adopted father Skerritt (Keith Carradine) warns him off contacting Ruthie, telling him that the police are watching her closely. Meanwhile, Patrick strikes up a tentative friendship with Ruthie, unaware that it was her that shot him in the first place.

The Good
David Lowery has clearly watched Terrence Malick's Badlands more times than can strictly be considered healthy, since Ain't Them Bodies Saints (a title that's not explained in the film but apparently derives from a misheard song lyric) plays like a note-perfect pastiche of Malick's films, complete with wispy voiceovers, moody (read: dark) lighting, lovingly shot landscape scenes and an evocative, blues-laden soundtrack. The performances are strong too, particularly the central trio of Affleck, Mara and Foster, while there's strong support from Carradine and from Nate Parker as Sweetie, a friend of Bob's who helps him hide out.

The Bad
The main problem with Ain't Them Bodies Saints is that the languid pacing slows down what is an already relatively sparse plot, to the point where the sleepy, smalltown atmosphere (and apparent permanent state of semi-darkness) threatens to become infectious. This lack of momentum ultimately ends up detracting from the story, because we're asked to believe that Bob is desperate to get back to Ruth, yet he also appears to hang around nearby for what seems like an eternity (the film also fails to establish just how far Bob's hideout is from where Ruth lives).

On top of that, the film is further let down by its ill-defined supporting characters; Skerrit's relationship to Bob is apparently paternal in nature, though he behaves more like Ruth's father, while there are also three evil bounty hunters who keep appearing out of nowhere and seem to have wandered in from a completely different movie.

Worth seeing?
Despite some pacing and story issues, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a stylishly directed debut that marks writer-director David Lowery out as a potential talent to watch.

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Ain't Them Bodies Saints (15)
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Content updated: 26/09/2015 06:48

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