THERE’S quite a range of art-house offerings available this week in home entertainment. So why choose the US independent film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints?
Well, I developed this thing for Rooney Mara after seeing her in Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. She was one of those actresses Hollywood was thrusting on us without the audience quite knowing why. And when she was cast as the lead in the US remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, no matter how fine she was in the lead role — and she was very good — the character was too cold to elicit any warmth for Mara the actor.
Soderbergh’s Hitchockian thriller was a revelation for Rooney’s performance opposite Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones. She has a presence. And she brings it to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which itself is another homage.
David Lowery’s romantic drama is set in 1970s Texas and stars Mara and Casey Affleck as Ruth and Bob, two young lovers on the lam. Bob takes the fall for a heist and goes to jail while Ruth gives birth to their daughter.
If the similarities to Terrence Malick’s Badlands weren’t obvious from the opening scenes, Bradford Young’s cinematography is straight from Malick’s playbook, all tall grasses swaying in the golden late-afternoon light and cameras sweeping around the entwined bodies of two young lovers.
Those opening scenes betray what will happen. Such deep love will not be denied by prison walls. Yet typical of Lowery’s second feature is the absence of a jail break.
Lowery’s pacing is so Malick there will be nothing as gauche as an energetic breakout.
No, we see Bob on the outside, eventually telling a colleague the pedestrian circumstances of his escape, as Ruth and Sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) prepare for his return.
Incredibly, Lowery just gets away with the ambling pace. The film’s beauty is its impressionist style. It captures moments and conversation, rather than barrelling along like an old-style western, all guns blazing and jutting jaws.
That said, this meandering pace is the western’s way in modern cinema. If you attempt retro train pursuits and gun fights, you have The Lone Ranger.
Lowery’s nods to America’s cinematic past include the great role for Keith Carradine, who plays Ruth’s protector. Carradine played a cowboy in Robert Altman’s 1971 western McCabe & Mrs Miller.
Overall, it feels a little too self-conscious for my liking, but Lowery has cast well and Mara, Affleck and Foster deliver the right notes. Mara, I get her now.
As for the odd title? It means nothing, apparently. Lowery misheard some song lyrics once and the phrase stuck.