Editor’s note: Allison’s review originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend.
Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are hopelessly in love. Even when they fight, they cannot help but fall back into each other’s arms with Bob reminding Ruth he will always follow her, always be with her. But with Bob down on his luck, a bad decision and a few gun shots have him headed off to jail, leaving Ruth without her husband and a baby on the way. Despite this turn of events, Bob and Ruth never give up on each other, a fact made achingly clear from the way they cling to each other even as Bob is being taken away. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints starts where most heist stories end, showing audiences what happens when the dust settles and the “bad guys” are put away.
Skipping ahead four years, Ruth’s daughter, Sylvie, is now grown and the two are now living a quiet life on their own. Bob still writes to Ruth, and she keeps every letter, but beyond that Ruth has not seen him since that faithful day, and Sylvie has never laid eyes on her own father. While there are a few men looking out for Ruth and Sylvie, Officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) has clearly taken a particular interest in the two. Ironically, Patrick is the officer who was gunned down, which then lead to Bob’s arrest, but it is clear his interest in Ruth is not that of revenge. When news that Bob has escaped prison comes out, Patrick takes it upon himself to deliver the news to Ruth. While she quickly (and definitively) states Bob would not be coming back for her, the moment she is alone, she stares hopefully at the door knob, almost willing it to turn.
The extent of the crime Bob committed (outside of shooting a police officer) was armed robbery, but once he is out, Ruth is not the only one hoping to lay eyes on him again. Bob gets a letter to Ruth, informing her of his plan to come for her and Sylvie, but as he is trying to throw off his pursuers and make his way back to his girls, Patrick is starting to insert himself into Ruth and Sylvie’s lives.
Affleck, Mara, and Foster all turn in powerhouse performances, giving weight and meaning to every glance and gasp. When Affleck delivers lines like, “She will run from that house like it’s on fire” and Mara with, “Maybe I’m just fooling you all,” the duo’s chemistry slowly draws you into their lives and their dynamic relationship. The connection between Affleck and Mara jumps off the screen, but Foster delivers a reserved performance that makes him seem like he could easily slide right into Bob’s role. With gorgeous cinematography from Bradford Young, every shot captured could be a stunning still photo in its own right, highlighted by a well placed and crafted score from Daniel Hart.
With Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, director David Lowery creates a love story about two outlaws set against the stark Texas landscape, an interesting take on the genre, but one that still has moments that harken back to classic westerns. Filled with quiet moments and beautiful shots, the film is the embodiment of a southern drawl, taking its time, but making it worth your while.
The Upside: Memorable and captivating performances; beautiful visuals and score; a slow burn full of layers and depth.
The Downside: Some may find the slower pacing boring rather than well drawn out.
On the Side: Lowery also contributed to two other Sundance films, as an editor for Upstream Color and a writer for Pit Stop.