Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) (R)

The title is one problem—the moodiness is another. The moodiness, the film uses to its advantage and overcomes quite nicely...the title, not so much.
After a slew of incredibly successful modern westerns that includes "No Country for Old Men", "There Will Be Blood" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", it was a very years before the sub-genre was tried again and with "Ain't Them Bodies Saints", writer/director David Lowery really went big.
The movie begins with shattered edits that tell the story of a Bonnie and Clyde type couple. It's not completely clear what exactly they have done, but within six minutes of the film's opening, there is a shoot-out with the cops.
Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are completely in love, but it the typical crazy way. They fight, break up, and get back together. It's like each other is the other one's antidote to the incredibly deadly disease known as boredom.
Bob is taken away to prison with a sacrificial move that absolves Ruth of all guilt. She is with child and he does not want Ruth or his baby to have to face prison life. Again, it's unclear how long Bob is in for prison, but he is determined to see Ruth and his child again before he dies. He writes Rush daily and she reciprocates until she has her child, a girl named Sylvie. Her maternal love is so great that she cannot describe it to Bob, so she stops trying in her letters...that was four years ago.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" tells a story that is slight, but interesting nonetheless. It's a story concerning only five or six characters who rarely meet and when they do, it's rarely pleasant. There's a sheriff who is pining after Ruth, Ruth's father who would do anything to ensure the safety of his daughter, a friend of Bob's, and then the family themselves.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is unafraid to shoot entire scenes pitch black. The natural feeling of the film is only marred by the eccentric cinematography that I have so liberally referred to as "hipster" in previous reviews. It's true, this is an indie film, through and through. But that's not always a bad thing...yet after so many, they begin to feel stereotypical. I realize that the way the camera is used reflects budget decisions and independent film making, but then again "War Witch" had the same look and it didn't get as frustrating as this does.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are both great rising stars, they are fantastic in everything they are in and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is no exception.
The film is entirely dependent on the viewer liking the two main characters and empathizing with them,  and I was completely fine with this.
The film is moody, dark, and sweaty. Lowery doesn't like his stars looking like they have had showers, which is, again, fine for the feeling he's trying to evoke.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is quite a solid movie, but there's nothing that spectacular about it. It's not bad, it's pretty good; but it is missing a je nais se quoi.
And then there's the problem with the title. Rumor has it that the title refers to song lyrics that the director misheard...just thought that was interesting.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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