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Ain't Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery | USA | 90 min.)
There is a hypnotic power in David Lowery’s films, as with his debut feature, St. Nick (Rooftop 2009, leading to his receiving the Rooftop Filmmakers’ Fund and Edgeworx Studios Post Production Grant). His films exude a tension and danger that is larger than any element in them -- his characters are quiet and simply drawn, but you sense depth and passion in them; his filmmaking is subtle and understated, but there’s an energy in every shot; his stories are focused and direct, but they contain grandeur.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints begins with a trancelike fugue, as two lovers fight in a sunset field, coo to each other in a parked pickup, and are suddenly thrust into a farmhouse gunfight. A jail term for him, a baby for her, years of aching separation, an escape . . . and then the stately story begins. Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) is on a quest to reunite with Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara). In early scenes with a friend who offers a hiding place, Muldoon is vague about whether he’s going to fetch Ruth. But a confrontation with his criminal mentor (Keith Carradine) lights the fuse. There’s something in Muldoon’s eyes, a look into the distance and future, something in his movements that reveal a controlled flame of desire. Seeing that, his journey feels inevitable, fated, yet desperate and fraught.
Another man, the local sheriff once shot by Ruth, is moving steadily in, played with stunning naïve charm by a thickly-mustachioed Ben Foster. The weight of domesticity and threat of danger is perhaps more than the romantic desperado adventures Muldoon once thought he wanted. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints represents a form of near-magical realism, so vivid and intense as to seem dreamlike. The romance is whispered in the past; the violence happens so fast you’re bleeding before you know someone fired. And so what Muldoon wants remains perhaps unclear -- as unclear as real life -- until his dying day.
- Mark Elijah Rosenberg