Thursday, 5 September 2013

Film review: Ain't Them Bodies Saints (15)

Ain't Them Bodies Saints
(15) 97mins

Sundance alumni David Lowery has created a doom-laden Bonnie and Clyde mood-piece with some fine central performances.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a slight tale cut through with slowburn menace and melancholy - but the golden sunlight that halos the characters suggests something greater than the sum of its parts.

Writer-director David Lowery, who workshopped this production through Sundance labs, has evinced a timeless, lyrical beauty to a tale of thwarted love and redemption.

His rewards are performances that take place mostly behind the eyes.

Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) try to shoot their way out of a bank robbery, clipping Sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) in the process. When Muldoon goes down for the crime he pledges to his pregnant wife that he will return for her come what may.

A few years later, Muldoon escapes and makes his way across country to Meridian, Texas. The townsfolk are braced for his arrival, none more so than shy Wheeler, who has been tentatively flirting with the single mum.

Muldoon's return, it seems, will be as cataclysmic as his departure.

Lowery rolls these dramas around his tongue like a rich bourbon whiskey and finds depth and texture within its folds.

Although nominally set in the 70s, the story feels timeless. The cornfields sway for eternity and homesteads are Wild West outposts, guarded by guns, sheriffs and tradition. Meanwhile, the dust-clogged pores and beer bottle relief evoke Cool Hand Luke.

Mara, in particular, relishes the time to explore her character, nursing her searing love for her husband and ferocious love for her child and torn over whether the two are opposed or complementary.

Hardened and fragile, she knows her strength is no match for her weakness. Wheeler is a soft option but she's a one man woman. Affleck, meanwhile, has poetry and violence in his soul, roiling and brewing like an acid mix.

Doom is written into the film's DNA but there is enough here that is uplifting, even spiritual, to present a case that these small, blighted lives have not been entirely wasted on turmoil and sadness.