The look, the sound, the mood, the time and the place of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints are classic. The cast is brilliant. The story, though somewhat predictable, has enough layers to keep moviegoers entranced from start to finish.
Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are young lovers in a small Texas town. They steal. They are chased. In a shootout, Ruth shoots a deputy in the shoulder but Bob takes the fall and goes to jail. The scene where Ruth and Bob are being led away from the shootout is one of the year’s best as they hold hands, whisper to one another, then are pulled apart.
Four years later, after Ruth has given birth to their child, Bob escapes. Deputy Wheeler (Ben Foster) breaks the news to Ruth and we see that he has feelings for her. (The deputy does not know that Ruth was the shooter who took him down.) Foster embellishes his performance with a distinctive cop swagger.
Keith Carradine plays a local shopkeeper whose son was an accomplice to the robbery and was killed in the shootout. While he befriends Ruth, he maintains a grudge against Bob. Escapee Bob visits his store and he tells Bob to stay away from Ruth and the girl. Fat chance.
Nate Parker is a local bar owner who provides a place for his old friend Bob to crash while he is on the lam. When deputy Wheeler comes looking for Bob, Parker’s character diverts attention while Bob jumps out a window.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is set sometime in mid-twentieth century. The gas guzzler sheriff’s cars appear to be mid-60’s vintage. The film recalls the 1973 movie Badlands with a young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as violent heartland killers. But Ruth and Bob are not so heartless.
Director David Lowery (who also wrote the script) has crafted a film with muted colors, frequent use of sepia tones and many almost monochromatic shots. The toned-down color, combined with some of the wardrobes, gives Ain’t Them Bodies Saints the feel of a Western movie in many of its scenes.
Though set in Texas (and filmed in Louisiana), ATBS looks like it could be anywhere in flyover country. Despite its chases and gunplay, much of the film has a relaxed pace. With its classic feel and strong acting performances, expect Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to show up on a few Top Ten lists at year’s end. Festival prizes already scored may be echoed in a few months by other awards groups.
Top cast members are Rooney Mara as the seemingly weak young woman who manages to gain strength and raise her daughter and Ben Porter as the deputy who finally gets the courage to express his feelings for Ruth. Casey Affleck’s mumbling may play against his chances for awards noms. Keith Carradine’s performance as a man with many motivations could also earn some awards love.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It has a good story told well and good characters acted well.