Love makes ya do the darnedest things.
Ruth and Bill (Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck) are young, madly in love, and plan of having a baby together. That’s usually a tri-fecta for any couple, but it’s different for these two since they are both outlaws, and Bill is in jail for all of the crimes he committed and some of which, he didn’t. Fast forward to a couple of years later, Ruth is living her with her and Bill’s baby girl, while also living a life under the lingering-eye of a local deputy, Patrick (Ben Foster). However, things go back to normal, and by “normal”, I do mean bat-shit crazy once Bill escapes jail and intends on coming back to Ruth, his daughter, and living the life they once lived before. But it isn’t going to be so easy with the law and a bunch of hitmen on his tail.
Right from the start, it’s obvious that David Lowery takes inspiration from Terence Malick’s shoes of film making. The images are beautiful, wistful, and poetic in the type of way that you could only get with a dude who pays as much attention to his editing, than the actual filming-process itself, but Lowery is a new type of breed that may be more welcome than Malick is these days. To the Wonder featured all of the same pretty things we love and adore about Malick films, but the story just blew. So you have to wonder: If Malick isn’t being the best he can be, who’s next to take the reigns? Obviously David Gordon Green had all of the promise in the world that just squandered once he started smoking hefty-amounts of pot and hanging with the Apatow crew, so that only leaves one person right here, right now, and possibly for awhile, and that’s David Lowery himself.
And yes, with the visuals, the sound, and the feel of this movie, it’s very Malick-y. It’s able to convey plenty of emotions just strictly through putting the camera in a certain position, barely moving it at all and just letting the images do the speaking for themselves. But he’s also very Malick-y in the way that he frames this story, if not better because at a surprising quick and fast hour-and-a-half, everything you need to, want to, and have to know about this story, just so happens to occur within the first 10 minutes and after that, it’s a free-fall from there of character-development, emotions, ideas, and themes, none of which ever seem to be over-shooting their guns either. For a first-time director with such limited resources, it’s a surprise that Lowery was able to hit as many marks as he was able to with a story that seems so familiar of outlaws and bandits falling in love and running from the law, but the stance and direction that Lowery takes is what makes it surprisingly fresh.
Rather than having this whole movie focus in on the relationship between Ruth and Bill, the how, the where, the what, and the when; we get only a tiny-bit of development between these two where we see how they obviously love each other and why, and then go straight to where they become separated, only to find that Ruth is pretty lax in her latter-days as a single-mommy. Believe it or not, after all of the hustle, bustle, action, and Jackson of the first 10-15 minutes, the movie calms down and gets very light, touchy-feely, and probably the most enjoyable since it’s all about the characters. And what makes those characters work as well as they do is how Lowery is able to make almost every character as interesting, or as likable as the one that came before.
Except for a couple of shady hitmen that come knocking through town later in the movie, there’s nobody here that’s really considered a “baddie”, which makes every conversation between whatever characters on-screen, interesting and compelling. Lowery’s script is great as he’s able to tackle the subject of love and at what lengths one would be able to pursue for it, but is also great at giving us a rich, detailed-characters that feel like real people, with real problems, and real feelings. Of course they’re more dramatic than the common-day folk, but at their core, they feel like people you could meet on the streets, especially the streets of Texas during the 70’s, where, you guessed it, this movie takes place. Obviously Lowery is a talent that needs to be watched from here on in and to be honest, once this movie hits the big-screen; I think we’re going to have ourselves a new David Gordon Green. Let’s just hope, as I said, he doesn’t start smoking hefty-amounts of pot and hanging with the Apatow crew.
Beware, David. Be very aware!
But as much as Lowery’s to be congratulated for the awesome work he’s pulled-off here, so is the cast that is just about perfection. Rooney Mara is a nice fit for Ruth, when she’s both a reckless troublemaker, and also a sweet, relaxed house-mommy-of-one. It’s nice to see that after a tough-ass performance in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mara can still make us forget about all of that and actually get us paying attention to how nice and civilized she can be. Ruth is a character caring for and worth watching, especially since you know she means well and just wants what’s best for her and her daughter, regardless of whether or not the daughter actually sees her father.
Speaking of the daddy, Casey Affleck is also very good as Bill, the outlaw on-the-run. Affleck’s good here because he’s not only able to make us care for this dude by the sure fact that he just wants to see his daughter and his baby momma, but also that we feel like he won’t kill anybody just to do it. In fact, he makes it an apparent point not to do so, but yet, still finds himself doing so when push comes to shove. It’s just the way the world works and he tries to keep his head above it, but still gets sucked down in every once and awhile. Aiding Bill at one point, is Nate Parker as one of his ex-crime buddies who has now taken up a life as a bartender/owner. Parker’s been a star on the rise for quite some time now and it’s only a matter of time until the dude breaks-out and takes the whole movie world by storm. Until then, keep doing what you’re doing, baby.
However, the best of the best for me was Ben Foster as Patrick, the local copper who not only takes a liking to Ruth, but also seems like he’s actually on Bill’s side, as much as he’s on the law’s side as well. People get on Foster’s case for being all about the yelling, the screaming and the larger performances that usually take more attention away from the movie or the character he;s playing, and more towards how over-the-top he is, but I’ve always stood by him no matter what, which makes this performance all the better because of how much he downplays it all. Patrick could have easily been a character that’s unlikable in the way that he’s thirsty for revenge and wants to bang the dude who shot him’s girlfriend, but it isn’t like that way with the character or with Foster. The dude’s actually really nice, seems to care about Ruth and would probably never do anything to hurt her or a fly, despite having a badge and a gun that may show otherwise. It’s great to see Foster finally getting more quality-roles and even though I wouldn’t say this is his best (this always does it for me) it’s still a step in the right direction for a dude who I think is criminally-underrated and due for some big roles. Hopefully my dreams come true. Hopefully.
If there was a problem I had with this movie, is that I think a little bit more time devoted to plot would have really benefited this flick. How it ends is pretty emotional and compelling, as the movie never seems to settle for a second, but it also feels rather abrupt, as if there was more here that Lowery didn’t leave in the final-cut or just didn’t bother shooting at all. Whether that may be the case or not, I have to say that something felt like it was missing from this movie and I still think about it now. Maybe I’m due for a re-watch sometime soon to fully get a grip? Just maybe I do but until then; that’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
Consensus: With a short running-time of only an hour-and-a-half, you would assume that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is just too packed-up for it’s own good, but it’s surprisingly brisk, deftly-paced, detailed, entertaining, and compelling enough to where you care for the characters, what happens to them, and where they might end up once the triggers have been pulled and the blood has been spilt.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!