Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

David Lowery's scrupulous and unperturbed Ain't Them Bodies Saints lyrically celebrates the make-believe of invented adventures, like those fed by discoloured coffee-table books of the past and the melodies that go with them. Prairie fantasies and outlaw escapes surge into the great American love story.

The where is Texas, the when never seems to completely settle. Rooney Mara's Ruth Guthrie could be a pioneer woman. She has her hair braided in pigtails while she walks across a golden field, followed by Casey Affleck's doe-eyed Bob Muldoon. Their names already a song, she looks fierce and announces that they will have a baby. He hugs her, the cut of his tight striped shirt makes us guess we are in the seventies, 1900s, not 1800s.

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Summer afternoons in a rural timeless Texas have the look of paled photographs of the beloved.

In the mysteriously named Ain't Them Bodies Saints something miraculous and new happens to the old narrative. Ruth says she thinks she shot someone. The film has only just begun, a robbery must have gone wrong. The mastery here is that the storytelling is a muddle and at the same time the essence is perfectly clear. Police surround the hide-out house, people are shot, the couple is taken in. What sticks in mind is something else. They kiss while they are being arrested. Ruth wears a small floral-print dress with a plaid shirt knotted around her waist - under the mix of gendered patterns, the baby grows.

Bob writes to Ruth from prison. She gives birth to a girl. Memories of them together inform us of their love. The paper he writes on has the texture of skin.

The girl grows up and the sunshine twinkles in her hair. Ruth looks at the back of the sheriff's head (Ben Foster, strong as sheriff Patrick Wheeler) in church. The years go by in summer dresses with heavy boots. The little girl twirls on a country road in homage to Terrence Malick. They find kittens and the mother reads from a book about a bear and tells her about her daddy, "who loved to wrestle bears." She is almost four when the father escapes from prison.

Bob's escape conjures imagery from the Great Depression. Lowery, who also wrote the screenplay, makes dialogue sound like folk songs: "I tell him I used to be the devil - now I'm just a man" or "I thought I would die from all that love." He gives spectators plenty of room to reflect on the history of America, collective impressions and individual watermarks.

Lowery's nostalgia works because it is so sincere and does not question America's fascination with Bonnie and Clyde as an excuse for bad deeds.

Two saintly bodies walk ominously with a shovel to the abandoned house where all the trouble began and Keith Carradine as Skerritt, who owns the town of Meridian's hardware store, has a riddled past. His shop holds a 150-year-old pistol on display with a list of all the people killed by it as a bonus extra. "Sounds like bullshit to me," counter the bounty hunters who come by to find out about the escaped Bob. The scene is funny and careful, and perfectly placed, like the turquoise mug Ruth holds in her hands, sitting by the door, when the sheriff returns her husband's letters to her.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a film of precise gestures and American memories, made up and yearned for, written to last on wind and sunshine.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2013
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Love story about an escaped outlaw and the wife who waits for him.
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Director: David Lowery

Writer: David Lowery

Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker, Charles Baker, Heather Kafka, Kentucker Audley, Robert Longstreet

Year: 2013

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


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