Bodies Saints February 15, 2015
As they wave their guns around and avoid thinking about the terrible consequences that will eventually befall them, outlaws always seem to be having a good time. Prancing on the wrong side of the tracks with psychotic ecstasy, there are only whens and wheres embedded in their actions, no what-ifs — perhaps that’s why outlaws always end up burning in hell after a determined policeman finally gets revenge or rotting in a dirty prison cell for the rest of their lives. Movies with a pair of career criminals as their focus tend to be romanticized, all fun and games until karma catches up and slaps around the anti-heroes we should be calling bad guys. Crimes are perfumed with a nearly erotic scent.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints mulls the aftermath of those said crimes. The Sugarland Express ended with only one survivor, and Bonnie and Clyde ended with, well, no survivors. But what if both perpetrators lived, one going to prison while the other ran free? Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is the mature cousin of the gangster film; most of us would prefer to watch the fun and games, not the consequences. The second feature from director David Lowery, the film takes the best components from Terrence Malick’s peak years and steadily heightens into something painstakingly rousing.
Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) are young, in love, and making a living as small-time crooks in a rustic Southern town. Ruth is a realist, but Bob is a romantic; when she discovers that she is pregnant, Bob believes that, despite their frequent illegal activities, they will soon become a picturesque version of the American family. But when they are involved in a shootout following a robbery, Ruth accidentally wounds an officer. In order to let her raise the coming child in peace, Bob takes the blame. Four years later, he escapes from prison, hoping to renew his life once again; but when he comes home, he finds that Ruth has moved on and is now beginning a romance with the man she shot all those years ago.
Before the early bulleted encounter that changes the course of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, there is an impression that we are about to witness a Badlands 2.0 of sorts, a deep dish of romanticized crime and doomed love. Lowery takes us one direction, but then side-steps the usual hackneyed activities. These characters don’t live in the enticing melancholy of an Elvis ballad; tragedy is tragedy, romance is damned. The plot ferments in a metal pot of tempestuous quiet, building and building until the banalities of life itself do the most damage.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is deceptively uncomplicated. A great touch is the way it uses only escalating claps, rickety snare taps, and subdued strings for its score while watching its characters with the concern of a psychiatrist. The lack of commotion, however, makes the film all the more exhilarating. As we examine Ruth evolve from a confused cheat to a responsible mother, a universal truth ensues, showing us that even people with the most shameful of pasts can move on. As Bob stays the same, believing that four years away from Ruth will change nothing, our heart breaks. This is not the outlaw film we’ve gotten to know over the years; this is something in a completely different league and mindset. Lowery has made a minor masterpiece that only assures us that even better things are to come. With Affleck and Mara perfectly cast as two souls who begin the same but stray away from each other as they age, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a slow-burning but intoxicating experience. You want to bathe in