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"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" Review

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"  (2013)

ATBS Final Poster
Source: IFC Films

Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and his pregnant girlfriend, Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are on the run from the law. Their luck runs out when they are captured after a shootout with the law. During the shootout, Ruth shots one of the local lawmen, but Bob wipes the gun clean of her fingerprints, then takes the blame for himself. As they are being arrested, Bob tells Ruth "It's going to be OK.  All you have to do is wait for me." Bob is convicted and sent to prison, while Ruth is seen as the pregnant victim by the jury and is acquitted. Ruth remains in the small Texas town that they grew up in. Now five years later, their daughter is four, and Bob has escaped from prison. Ruth knows that Bob is on his way to her, though she denies it to everyone who asks, including the local Sherriff (Ben Foster).

The film seems to be set in the 1970s, but the town and the surrounding farms seem to be from a land that time has forgotten. There is nothing apparently new in the town, from the beat up cars that people drive to the houses that people live in - everything seems to be old and worn out. The cinematography of the film, courtesy of Director of Photography Bradford Young, brings this aspect out with remarkable results. The movie is filled with scenes that seem to take place at a perpetual setting of the sun, giving the film and its landscape a golden, amber hue.  Writer/director David Lowery is from Texas, and captures the look and feel of a land perfectly with a beautiful harsh, ruggedness to it. The film is filled with scenes shot through screen doors or looking down long breezeways. It's as if Lowery wants us to keep slightly apart from these troubled characters.

Source: IFC Films

Affleck brings life to his character, whose whole world revolves around Ruth, to the point of obsession. Affleck narrates a good deal of the film in the form of letters to Ruth that he wrote while in prison. These letters give us a background into the relationship that Bob has with Ruth. Affleck's narration fits in seamlessly with his character's undying love and fierce determination to get back to the woman he loves, but it's his time on screen with Rooney when Affleck really shines as both his stature and his mannerisms show just how much Ruth means to him. Bob is constantly touching Ruth as if he is afraid that if he doesn't stay in contact with her, she will disappear. The scenes in the film where he is without Ruth, Affleck shows Bob as a tortured soul, someone who cannot bare to live without his lifelong love.

Source: IFC Films

Rooney, portrays Ruth with a quiet resolve, as she seems the more sensible of the two lovers. The one who can actually see that her life with Bob will never be what they want it to be.  She knows that Bob is coming for her but is conflicted to the core because she has come to love her simple life in the small town with their daughter, yet longs for the man she loves. Rooney, who is just getting better and better with every film she makes, is remarkable, bringing a depth and complexity to the role. Ruth is a woman who is in love with a man that she knows in her heart will only bring her pain, Rooney brings this characteristic to the forefront in every scene she plays. The only time that Ruth seems to relax is when she is interacting with her daughter, who in time, has replaced Bob in her heart.

Lowery's script and his direction authentically capture the people that would inhabit such a small Texas town.  Ben Foster, playing the Sherriff, who is not so secretly in love with Ruth, is excellent playing the part with a resigned and unobtrusive air. It is as if he knows that if he pushes too far in his affection for Ruth, she will run from him. Keith Carradine, in one his best performances, expertly plays Skerritt, a shop owner in the town who is Bob's mentor and de-facto father figure. Carradine plays Skerritt as a man who has seen a lot, a character that we determine not only runs the shop but probably the town as well. Skerritt is a man, who on the outside is a simple man but Carradine gives us a character that is much more complex than meets the eye. He is someone who can see what is coming down the road and knows no matter what, he can't stop the events from unfolding.

Source: IFC Films

The score of the film by Daniel Hart fits the look and feel of film, as the movie contrasts the stark present full of doom with the almost idealistic past. We see scenes of Bob and Ruth interacting in their earlier, happier life - where Bob promised Ruth the moon and she was foolish enough to believe him. It's a movie that perfectly tells the tale of star-crossed lovers, a story where we almost certainly know how it will turn out, but are still willing to go on the journey with them because the characters are so compelling and the performances of the actors are so real.   My Rating:  Full Price

The film is playing in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

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