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Review: Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Alluringly shot, the subtleties and simplicities of this vintage romantic thriller ensure a purely affective experience

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aintthembodiesDirector: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster
Length: 97 minutes

"This was in Texas" is what first appears after the opening titles. Nothing too specific: no year, no town. We're still unsure exactly what "This" is, although it gives the impression that we're going to be shown. We just have to sit, wait, and refrain from looking too hard.

This sets the tone for "This" from start to finish. Of course, it's not as if the film crumbles under a certain level of scrutiny, or leaves you waiting for long - it's simply that sitting back and appreciating this film with the gut reaps more rewards than running at it with eagle-eyes and a fine-tooth comb.

As such, when fifteen minutes have elapsed and you still don't know exactly how or why Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) ended up in a shoot-out, where Skerritt (Keith Carradine) fits into anything, or any of the other background information David Lowery has found fit to discard or grant a passing and easily missable mention, you know with insuperable certainty that our protagonists are very deeply in love, and that nothing can change that.

Just like the back-story, the plot is skeletal: Ruth shoots a police officer and Bob takes the fall, before breaking out of prison in order to reunite with her and Sylvie, the daughter he's yet to meet. Complicating matters are Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), the shot cop who, unaware of the truth, falls for Ruth, and the aforementioned Skerritt, who turns out to be an over-protective neighbour and family friend of sorts.

The majority of the film's substance comes by way of beautiful magic-hour visuals, tenderly set on a knife-edge. Influences from other romantic crime stories are present, particularly Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us (1974), but most significantly, though not slavishly, is Terrence Malick's 1973 debut Badlands, particularly in the haunting dusk- and dawn-lit wide shots.

Rooney Mara's Ruth is significantly more taciturn than her 1973 counterpart, but confidently acted. In the subtleties of her manner we find a wealth of emotion, a powerful blend of trepidation and unwavering devotion. It would not be going too far to say that this is a minimalistic performance which excellently exposes the difficulties of Ruth's situation. Affleck's Bob rolls on rather neatly from his 2007 performance as the notorious Robert Ford, his voice carrying much the same uncharacteristic gentleness of a criminal, but manipulated by love rather than cowardice.

Original music by Daniel Hart is certainly a highlight, where rhythmic clapping finds a dual use for both Sylvie's childhood bond with her mother, and Bob's thrilling task of escaping the authorities, staying undetected and being united with his family. In other instances, the soft to-ing and fro-ing of violins effects a gentle melody unsettled by the separation of the lovers.

This is a truly beautiful film, where sight and sound certainly rewards. Like I said, it's not as if the film crumbles under further analysis, it's just not as rewarding. For many, the simplistic plot will detract from the film instead of bringing the affective to the fore. Indeed, I'm sure a shade more originality in that department, written in the right way, would have worked well. After all, that's how ground-breaking films are made. If you want the full package, then watch Badlands. But all the same, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a delight to behold, should you sit passively and judge it with your most primal senses.

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