Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are a young couple in love, and completely devoted to her. When a robbery goes wrong, Bob is sentenced to jail time, but it is not long before he escapes and sets out to reunite with Ruth and the daughter he has never met.
David Lowery’s film has already won praise at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been compared with Terrence Malick’s masterpiece, Badlands, much to the director’s chagrin. Lowery gets the best from his cast; Rooney Mara continues her trend for playing monosyllabic women, but there is a warmth to Ruth that we have not seen the actress play very often. Mara’s interactions with Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith – the young actresses who play her daughter Sylvie – feel natural and gentle, and Mara provides the counterpoint to her more violent and ruthless co-star.
As Bob, Casey Affleck plays a character who seems conflicted about his place in the world. With Ruth he is as gentle and fun as she is, but there is a dark streak to this man that obviously drives him to the lengths he goes to. Ben Foster, as Patrick, is another gentle soul who finds himself drawn to the mysterious and lonely Ruth.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints plays like a modern Western, the film is set in the 1970s, but the universal story and almost anachronistic setting leaves it feeling like it could be set in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. Lowery ramps up the atmosphere and the tension as we learn more about Ruth’s life without Bob and his quest to return to her. Sweeping camera angles and bleached tones add to the pleasing aesthetic of the film.
The problem with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is it’s predictability. Almost from the opening moments it is clear what is going to happen to this young couple, the only saving grace is that Lowery makes the journey with Ruth and Bob an interesting and engaging one, so even though we may guess the destination, we are still along for the ride. As well as this, due to some Southern accents and a lot of mumbling, there are lines in the film that are unintelligible.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a nostalgia piece for the great loves of the past, and how these loves destroy those they touch. Mara shines as a strong woman made vulnerable by her situation and, although it is easy to see the direction the story is headed in, Lowery’s eye for detail and the beautiful tones of the film make for a beautiful, if slightly unoriginal watch.