The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Ain't Them Bodies Saints | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Ain't Them Bodies Saints

An escaped convict is determined to reunite with his wife and daughter.

Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine

In the aftermath of a crime spree, pregnant Ruth Guthrie (Mara) shoots and wounds cop Patrick Wheeler (Foster). To spare Ruth, her husband, Bob Muldoon (Affleck), claims responsibility for firing the shot and receives a lengthy prison sentence in a distant prison. Four years into his term, Bob escapes and begins to make his way back to his wife and the daughter he's never met. In the intervening time, Ruth and Patrick have struck up a friendship that the latter hopes will develop into something more.
Like Andrew Dominik's 'The Assassination of Jesse James', another movie with a gripping performance from Affleck, David Lowery's contemporary western de-romanticizes the myth of the outlaw. Shunning a traditional western setting, however, Lowery places the story in seventies rural Texas and the effects of this are two-fold.
The outlaws of the old west were treated as heroes by many, due to the romanticizing of their exploits by pulp writers at a time when unromantic facts were rarely reported. The seventies is a setting far enough removed from this time in that it's an era in which outlaws no longer carry a mystique but also a time long before the "instant fame" culture of today, where setting off a bomb gets you on the cover of Rolling Stone. Muldoon, brilliantly essayed by Affleck, is that classic western archetype - a man out of time. He longs for recognition of his outlaw status, but, unlike the vacuous by-products of today's reality-TV culture, you get the sense he craves respect for his actions rather than fame. When a character inquires as to how he escaped from prison, Muldoon spins a lyrical yarn, to which his interrogator replies "The TV said you jumped off a work truck". Later, Muldoon instructs a hijacking victim to "tell your Daddy who you gave a ride to today", only to receive the puzzled response "Who?". It's a reaction that seems to cause him more pain than the physical wound he's carrying at the time.
The rural Texas setting gives Lowery's film a timeless quality. The writer-director gives us a world where vinyl records provide the soundtrack in makeshift bars, people sing country tunes to one another rather than watching TV, naively poetic letters are posted in place of phone calls, and men still wear ten-gallon hats.
Keith Carradine, who starred in many of the elegiac seventies movies this one recalls, is magnificent as Muldoon's adoptive father. He's ashamed of the man his adopted son has become, yet it's suggested that his own fascination with the mythical outlaws of old, (his general store is a mini museum of old west artefacts), may have rubbed off a little too much.
Mara continues her quest to become the Shelley Duvall of her generation and is great, as always, here, as is Foster in the role of her unrequited lover. The other stars are Bradford Young, whose cinematography expertly captures the rugged beauty of working class Texas, and composer Daniel Hart, who provides a wonderfully melancholy country-tinged score.
At one point, a visitor to Carradine's store receives a lecture on the history of an antique gun on display. Unimpressed with Carradine's tale, the young man replies "sounds like a crock of shit to me". Describing this film to modern cynics raised on CG and talky TV shows will likely draw a similar response. If, however, you have a love of westerns and the fading American mythos, I suggest you warm yourself next to Lowery's elegiac funeral pyre. 

Eric Hillis