Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (IFC Films, R)

Aint-Them-Bodies-Saints 75It seems like the type of movie that will earn wild, starry-eyed devotion from some of its audience members, while leaving others scratching their heads.

 

Aint-Them-Bodies-Saints

The Sundance hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a movie that at once reminds you of a lot of other movies but also feels pretty distinctly like a wholly original work. Writer/director David Lowery seems to be pitching its tone at a cross between criminal-lovers-on-the-run movies like Bonnie and Clyde or Badlands and more straightforwardly lyrical love stories like Days of Heaven or All the Real Girls. There’s a fair amount of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in there, too, and not only because they share the same male lead, one Casey Affleck. These movies are all movies that I love, and I appreciate that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints seems to be trying to work in the same vein while still breaking new ground, but in the end it didn’t entirely work for me. It seems like the type of movie that will earn wild, starry-eyed devotion from some of its audience members, while leaving others scratching their heads. I was more in the latter category.

It isn’t so much a film that’s interested in getting you wrapped up in its story as it is in evoking feelings, or setting a time and place, etc. The story, though, such as it is, concerns lovers Bob (Affleck) and Ruth (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara), who after some trouble with the law are separated early in the movie, when Bob has to go to prison and Ruth stays free. Just prior to their separation, both we and Bob learn that Ruth is pregnant with his child. Bob, of course, makes it a priority to break out of prison and make it back to his family, and as you can imagine this goal causes problems for just about everyone involved.

I’m happy to see that Lowery has the sense to cast the great, weirdly-underused actors Affleck and Mara in this film, as they have such a strong presence (and one that is appropriate to this film, no less), and even in supporting roles, he features some of our better, too-overlooked young actors, such as Ben Foster (who did his best work so far in 2009’s criminally underseen The Messenger). Really, though, I never found myself engaged in the characters, the pretty rural Texas landscapes, the emotions, the story, nothing. Do you ever go and see a movie you’re really excited to see, but then you’re confused by how bored you are when you’re actually watching it? That’s pretty much how this movie was for me.

I don’t mean to discourage you from seeing it if you’re inclined to; like I said, it does a lot of things right, and a lot of not-me people seem to be enjoying it. I remain enthusiastic to see whatever Lowery does next, but will have to file this one away as a near-miss. | Pete Timmermann

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