The story of Bonnie & Clyde has always intrigued the world and the world of cinema. There are countless renditions of the story and it always seems like we get a new one each year. It’s always the same, too. The two rob someplace and then they get killed, as the story goes. Sometimes, however, we get a new spin-off of the story that only emulates aspects of what happened. Change is always happening in the film industry and a new take on a classic story seems to be overdue. The only question is, will this team be able to pull everything off?
Out in the back country of Texas, a robbery occurred and the two suspects were on the run from the police. Heading to a wrecked home in the middle of a field, Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) have money in one hand and guns in the other. Upon reaching the house, the two take cover and try their best to fend off the officers pursuing them. When Ruth shoots an officer in the shoulder, the two realize that the game is over and that they’ll need to come out. Taking the blame for everything to protect his pregnant wife, Bob goes to jail in place of Ruth, leaving her to have the child on her own. For now, their Bonnie & Clyde story had come to an end and Ruth would have to wait for Bob.
As Bob wrote Ruth many letters from Jail, he planned his escape and eventual return to his wife and young daughter, whom he’d never met. As Ruth struggled to raise her child as a single mother, Officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) takes it upon himself to help Ruth in any way he can. As the two begin spending more time together, they begin to grow attached and Wheeler begins to become the father figure in the daughter’s life. When word gets out that Bob has escaped prison and is on the run, Wheeler suspects that he’ll be back for his wife and child. Ruth is torn, morally, when trying to decide which man she wants to be with.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a very… interesting film, to say the least. Director David Lowery has taken some cool artistic liberties with the classic Bonnie & Clyde tale, but he’s also managed to make it less interesting and less fun. I respect his vision, but I’m really conflicted on this film. I had to watch it twice, as the first time I was half-asleep. The performances were raved about by everyone who saw it, so that’s the primary reason I watched it. That aspect was true, but they barely make this film recommendable. If not for them, I’m not sure I would have been so kind with the rating.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara head up this cast, providing almost contrasting performances that tell an interesting tale of love. While Affleck plays the soft-spoken and determined husband, Mara plays a reluctant and frightened wife who is unsure of what the future holds for her. Affleck’s ambition never ends and his determination to risk everything to see his wife and daughter is really touching. Though he talks low and often mumbles, the emotion is clear in his faint voice and you can see how much he cares about his wife. Mara, however, is often emotionless and struggles to keep things together. She’s raising her daughter on her own and she’s conflicted in her love. Both provide adoring performances that standout among this year’s most overlooked and underrated.
Ben Foster, who’s really done an amazing job this year, gives the best performance in this film. His gentle love for Mara, but deep aggression towards Affleck is phenomenal. The way he interacts with Mara and her daughter is incredibly touching and hits all the right chords. He captivates each scene he’s in and his raw emotion is moving and so beautiful to watch. Speaking of beautiful to watch, the cinematography in this film is superb! Bradford Young captures the beauty of the South and pairs it with a drawn-out tale of love and despair. The sweeping shots of the empty fields and the Sun’s shine on small towns is breathtaking. He does a great job of immersing you in the film and making it worth the watch.
Great performances and cinematography can only entertain you for so long. Even though this film is only 96 minutes, it feels like an eternity after a while. The picturesque scenes and quiet narrative of Casey Affleck is practically sleep inducing. All the excitement and action happens at the beginning of the film and then the pace stops and moves as quick as a tortoise. That would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that the pace never changes for the rest of the story. Everything is done slowly and it’s really hard to care about what’s happening when you’d rather be watching or doing anything else.
Aside from the three main characters, there aren’t very many supporting characters. The three leads do a fine job of carrying the story and interacting with one another, but they don’t do much with people outside of each other. There are minor characters who serve a quick purpose and then we never hear from them again. We also get a brief background on a few characters, but even then, the relationships they have with the leads don’t seem realistic. Everyone else seems as flat as the film feels and that really doesn’t do this film any favors.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints never had mediocre success and it stayed below the radar all throughout the year. I don’t think that as a film it’ll be remembered, but I think that it’s performances will. In a year when Ben Foster, Rooney Mara, and Casey Affleck gave three amazing performances, this film may have some chance of being found among every other Indie Film that never took off this year. This film has great lead characters and it looks amazing, but that’s all it has going for it. It doesn’t entertain on a standard level, so don’t go into it expecting to be deeply invested in the story. This film is a new look at a classic tale, but it just fails to ever take off or even start running.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints