Replete with a WTF title, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a pretentious bore. Writer/director David Lowery borrows both tropes (fugitives, a Southern setting) and style (minimalist dialogue, laconic narration) of early Terrence Malick, with considerably lesser results. Rooney Mara is Ruth, a young woman who has fallen pregnant by armed robber Bob (Casey Affleck). When Bob is arrested for shooting a police officer (Ben Foster), Ruth must deal with the consequences of her actions when Bob escapes imprisonment.
You might say that the plot isn’t important in terms of such a lyrical and non-literal film as Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. However, in order to believe in the emotional stakes of the film’s many confrontations, we must also believe in the plot mechanisms that allowed for those dramatic scenes to occur. Unfortunately, the film offers too many contrivances to justify emotional investment: Why do Bob and Foster’s Patrick Wheeler tend to magically be at the same place at the same time? Why has the police force not set up a manhunt for the escaped fugitive? On the basis of this film, Texas seems like it contains the most blasé police force in the world. With the exception of Patrick, they don’t seem ALL THAT concerned over Bob’s whereabouts.
The performances are decent, as the actors give emotional conviction to the increasingly unlikely material. Foster gives surprising restraint to Wheeler. An actor not exactly known for his SUBTLETY, Foster finds sweetness in his forlorn character. Mara works against her own miscasting (let’s say, she was a more convincing Swedish bisexual hacker than a Texan mother) to offer another steely and interesting performance. Only Affleck is unconvincing, offering a repetitive and dull interpretation of Bob.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints shows neither narrative command or visual inventiveness from the first-time writer/director Lowery.
MIFF runs funtil August 11. All program details here.