If someone were to promise me a film with the visual appeal of The New World, an outlaw and his family story that could be out of the pages of No Country for Old Men and that old Texan post-cowboy pre-hipster Austin lifestyle from Lawless I’m not quite sure I could resist it. However, when that film turns out to be Ain’t Them Bodies Saints I see that mixing bits and bobs into a pot doesn’t always garner the best of results.
Bob Mulden (Casey Affleck), after discovering he’s going to become a father, decides to do one more job to set his family for the forseeable future. On this job his partner is killed and he takes the blame for the shooting of a police officer, Patrick (Ben Foster), in order to keep the mother of his child, Ruth (Rooney Mara), out of the eyes of the law. Eventually Bob, under a 25 to life sentence, escapes prison and looks to make his family whole again.
Mimicry is the kindest form of flattery many say. So when Bradford Young (cinematographer) and David Lowery (director) decided to take on Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki‘s style as it relates to their work in films like The Tree of Life and The New World, it creates a relatable bond for fans of that work that adds a sense of immediate gratification. However, what Lowery fails to capitalize on is actually presenting character through this narrative style of numerous voice-overs, jumping between characters and creating a sense of stoicism throughout. Here however it just feels like an added effect, like an Instagram filter, for those same audience members who can attach themselves to it that doesn’t do anything other than the fact that we got a really pretty picture with the sun off in the distance and generally looking at our character’s back as they move off towards said sunshine.
As it relates to the story of Bob and his criminal life there are a number of elements that never quite feel paid off fully. When we see him escape prison, his first task — after evading police and getting out of dodge — is to recover the money from his series of robberies and final job. At around the same time we see a group of men appear in town and we can easily assume that they are there for Bob and possibly the money, though this is not confirmed. This revenge element leaves many questions up in the air with little attempt to answer them. Who are these men? Why do they want to kill Bob? What did Bob do? It would be easy to answer these questions ourselves, however eventually the film starts to answer them and the answers we’re given contests what we would easily assume — and accept — and this leads to more questions which are absolutely never answered.
Otherwise the film features a time and place when cowboys changed to outlaws and for anyone interested in those kind of characters will have a lot to dig into here. Casey Affleck channels characters that he’s given us before, with The Killer Inside Me and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and we are not disappointed. The addition of Ben Foster and Keith Carradine makes the cast even more well played. Rooney Mara also does her fair share of great moments of character.
In any other relatively well put together film these characters would thrive. However, here — mainly due to the visual style that doesn’t work — they are stifled by all the visual pieces that takes the film by the wheel and drives it straight into a brick wall repeatedly.
What do you think of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints?