The title is director David Lowery's "mondegreen" - a mishearing of a song lyric - and has no actual meaning. See more »
When Bob visits Skerritt and they embrace, Bob is clearly wearing a wedding ring which is not present in any other scene including in the continuation of this meeting. Given Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie's differing names it could be presumed they are not married. See more »
You shot me. Why did you shoot me? I never even seen you.
What's this about? Money?
It's not you. You and the girl. Everything you tried to do.
You're gonna shoot me?
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David Lowery's cool sophomore feature, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," resurrects the bad old days of outlaw love that has been portrayed in such seminal cinematic classics like Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" and, most notably, Terrence Malick's "Badlands." Unlike those films, though, Lowery concerns himself less with the crimes that his Romeo and Juliet commit, instead focusing on the fallout.
On a summer evening in the 1970s, lovers Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (the porcelain-dainty Rooney Mara) find their Midwestern crime spree has ended with them holed up in a farmhouse, as armed deputies gather outside. They exchange shots, with Ruth shooting one of the encroaching officers. Rather than seeing their love story end with them being gunned down in a bloody shoot-out with police, Bob surrenders, not wanting his pregnant love to die. The two are led away from the scene in cuffs, with Bob taking the full weight of their crimes and being sent to prison.
Four years later, Ruth has given birth to a daughter and tries to live a normal, peaceful life. She even finds herself the interest of police officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), who, in a capricious turn of fate, turns out to be the same cop Ruth shot. Whether it be because of genuine fascination or just being a Good Samaritan, Patrick finds himself sliding into the position Bob had vacated. And one day, Patrick ends up giving Ruth a heads-up: Bob has broken out of prison, and the authorities are certain he's on his way back to Ruth.
Bob has spent in years in stir desperate to reconnect with his family, promising in his many letters to Ruth that he will return to her. We follow his journey across state lines, carjacking a helpless woman and hopping a train in order to reach his destination. He seeks shelter with his adoptive father (a splendid Keith Carradine), all the while certain that love will conquer all and that everything will be "the way it was." Unfortunately, Bob's worldview is a naive one, because even though Ruth still pines for her erstwhile lover, motherhood has altered her focus. Of course, Patrick's omnipresence in her life is another complication that will, we know, present further problems.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" does not tread over any new ground, but it more than makes up for it in terms of its mood. It inevitably invites comparison to the aforementioned Malick's debut film, especially with its hauntingly ethereal cinematography (almost every shot looks like a painting, poetically halcyon yet brimming with a fresh energy). Despite being a very simple story, it has a larger, more timeless feel, aided by the perpetual magic-hour vistas and the ponderings of the main characters (Mara and Affleck's dreamy voiceovers lovingly add to the poignancy Lowery's film already presents in spades).
While Bradford Young's elegant cinematography is certainly one of Saints's most striking attributes (he did win an award for it at Sundance earlier this year), the performances are what truly enthrall. Casey Affleck, in a role that is almost a complete 180 from his breakout turn as another Bob (the coward Robert Ford), provides a raw and unexpected masculinity. Rooney Mara—an actress who is normally glacial, as seen in her work in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "Side Effects"—gives a heart-piercing turn as a woman who must choose parental responsibility over her heart's desire. And Ben Foster, whose chief stock in trade is unbridled intensity, plays it broodingly low-key, in a welcome performance reminiscent of Sam Shepard's subdued, tender work in another Malick joint, "Days of Heaven."
Unlike its predecessors, the romance in Lowery's film doesn't die in a hail of lead or from execution in the electric chair. It dies because of time, distance, and the natural progression of life. It is something all of us can relate to, in some shape or form. "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" manages to keep its emotional heft feather-light, rather than acting as a millstone. It's a talent that makes me very keen to see what Lowery's got down the pike. And although this film has a Malickian feel, it still feels very distinct in itself. It's an exciting experience, to be sure.
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