Overview: An outlaw escapes prison and dangerously makes his way back to his wife and the child he has never met. IFC Films; 2013; Rated R; 96 Minutes
Everything is Bigger: This movie has a preoccupation with its socio-geographic setting. Not just in the title card announcement “This was in Texas…” but in the way the camera, or at least the eye of the viewer, wanders away from the action into the landscape. Every scene is a reminder, in the character’s telling drawls, their quiet pride, and the expressed fascination in heightened ideas of masculinity and legend. First-time director David Lowery wants us to be constantly aware of where (and when) he has taken us. It’s as if all that explosive violence isn’t the subject of the film, just something we have witnessed on our way just passing through. Texas is a land synonymous with some of the greatest Westerns. Here, a modern Western is added to that list.
Her: Rooney Mara is Ruth, a woman who we first learn is recklessly in love (the wild eyed, youthful sort of love that swings harshly back and forth from passionate anger to passionate affection), then we learn she’s pregnant, and then we learn she’s an outlaw. Minutes into the film, Ruth and her lover Bob are in a shootout with the cops. Bob accounts for Ruth’s participation and accepts his prison sentence while she goes home. The real plot of the movie starts years later, with Ruth on her own, raising a daughter, and aware that Bob has escaped prison. From then on, this movie is held together by the strength and intelligence that Mara brings to the role. Where lesser movies would cheapen Ruth to the function object of affection, this movie presents her as the hero, avoiding what might have been just a second rate love-triangle. To my mind, this is Mara’s first venture into A-list star performance levels. I was stunned at what she provided to this movie.
Him: Casey Affleck plays Bob Muldoon as a jut-jawed and temperamental anti-hero who in his contemplative moments recalls the prose of Cormac McCarthy. The patient tenacity that Affleck is able to provide is remarkable, the kind of character one doesn’t want to cross when he’s in love. Bob is as dynamic as a screen presence can get—at times simultaneously sympathetic and scary, never bothering to tell the viewer whether he is the good guy or the bad guy. When the movie ends, we remember Bob as all sinewy arms and balled fists. Casey Affleck is one of the best leading men out there. It is a shame he can’t do ten movies a year.
Watch This Movie if You Like: Badlands, Bonnie and Clyde, True Romance.
Overall: With its strong performances and the poetry that moves from its script to its visuals, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints offers up a debut feature full of promise.