This is Texas; deep Texas. Folks here have a permanent glossy sheen of sweat on them because there are no air conditioners. They move at a slower pace down here; they even talk slower. You wouldn’t last too long in the heat if you moved as if you had somewhere to be. Bob (Casey Affleck) definitely has somewhere to be, and it is not in his prison cell.
In an opening that skips most of the action to get to the what happens next, Bob and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are in a shootout with the local cops, their accomplice is dead, and Ruth just shot a cop, Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), in the shoulder. Bob takes the wrap, goes away for 25 to life, and pregnant Ruth starts to get on as best she can while promising to wait for Bob.
Promises are one thing; actually doing the waiting while raising a baby girl by herself is an entirely different set of circumstances. After four years, Bob, unable to fathom being away from his girls for the rest of his life, breaks out of prison and as most town folk guess, is on his way back home. Everyone wants to see Bob disappear; he most likely would succeed too. However, Bob only wants his girls back. He is a desperate man who has no plans to return to prison.
Everyone involved, except Bob, knows how this whole thing is going to end. I suppose men in prison need a particular amount of hope to get by, but those on the outside are tired. They see Bob and they see a past they would prefer to forget and leave buried. There is a sense of inevitability; everybody knows the moves. Even the cops move slowly and wait for Bob to come to then instead of rushing around to track him down.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a drama, not a shoot-em-up and escape and evasion action thriller. There are a couple shootouts, but they play out just as they would in real life; they are short and confusing. Patrick, all better now, takes a shine to Ruth. He has his suspicions about that day so long ago, but he sees a different Ruth; he sees a poor woman who works hard, goes to church, and raises her daughter right.
Watching over everyone, including Ruth, Bob, and the cops, is Skerritt (Keith Carradine). Every small town has one of these guys. He is not the mayor or the town gossip, but he knows everyone’s business and appears to wield more influence than anyone else around. He watches over Ruth as a father would, bear hugs Bob when he sees him but would just love to see him disappear, and may have one or two other secrets up his sleeve.
Nobody knows what the title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints means; it probably doesn’t mean anything. Unlike many generic titles though, you’ll remember this strange yet ridiculous title. We also have no idea what year the story takes place in. There are no advanced electronics around, but the cars aren’t too old, the early ‘70s perhaps?
Writer/director David Lowery saturates the film with a thick atmosphere; you can almost feel the oppressive humidity seeping through the screen. Lowery also landed an extremely talented cast. Casey Affleck’s Bob is a latter generation Robert Ford who is not too far removed from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). Mara, Foster, and Carradine are all in top form as well; Carradine brings a little of his Wild Bill Hickock from Deadwood with him though.
The award-winning (Sundance) cinematography by Bradford Young aids the film as much as the cast. The sunlight is brilliant and almost all of the scenes during the day seem to be in the twilight hours. Young was anything but going through the motions here; there are noticeable tracking shots of Affleck and Mara which draws the audience in closer when most other crew behind the camera would merely hold the camera in one place.
Also, the editing jumps around, especially in the beginning while we are trying to figure out where we are. Lowery edited this year’s Upstream Color and while not cut nearly as challenging as that film, Saints has its fair share of abrupt sequences which try and snatch the rug out from under the audience.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is saddled with an awful title, but it is a sweaty and dramatic tale about what happens after the shootout. Is the girl still waiting for the man she swore she would wait for? Does the man look beyond his own immediate needs and think about what is best for his girls? This is not action material which is most likely why it works so well as a drama.
Directed by: David Lowery
Written by: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker