By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Ain’t Them Bodies Saints embraces drama the way that title, which comes from a country song, embraces grammar.
It’s a crime drama in the Bonnie and Clyde vein about Bob Muldoon, a 1970s Texas outlaw played by Casey Affleck, who claimed responsibility and went to prison for the shooting of a cop that was actually an act committed by his girlfriend and accomplice, Ruth Guthrie, played by Rooney Mara, during a standoff at an abandoned farmhouse following a crime-spree robbery.
Then, early on during his 25-year prison sentence, Muldoon hears that his wife has given birth to a girl. That’s why he keeps trying to escape, in hopes of reuniting with Ruth, who has refused to visit him in prison, and of finally seeing the daughter he has never met.
Eventually, four years later, he succeeds, but with a trio of bounty hunters pursuing him.
Ben Foster plays Patrick Wheeler, the local deputy seemingly single mom Ruth wounded four years ago, who is now romantically interested in her (and, apparently, vice versa), while Keith Carradine is a shopkeeper and Bob’s surrogate father with the wisdom of experience to share.
Writer-director David Lowery (St. Nick, Deadroom), who often seems to be channeling director Terence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven), sees his film about the American outlaw as poetic. Okay, maybe it is. It certainly abounds with highly calculated visual beauty.
But landscapes are landscapes, and poetic can also be a synonym for “slow. ” The fact of the matter is, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints crawls.
Self-consciously mythic and suffocatingly atmospheric, it is, in some ways, an action movie with all the action occurring off-screen, like gorgeous fruit without the pulp.
Lowery has the elements in place for an intriguing romantic triangle, and he wants to cast a spell on viewers. But he seems so much more interested in the way things look and sound than how they play out that we quickly lose interest in the outcome.
Consequently, three talented, up-and-coming actors — Affleck (Oscar-nominated for The Assassination of Jess James by the Coward Robert Ford), Mara (Oscar-nominated for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and the compelling quirky Foster — are essentially underemployed.
So we’ll escape from 2 stars out of 4 for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a handsome drama with plenty of handsome and precious little drama.