“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is a wistful and wayward drama about an outlaw couple who will get under your skin and work on your heart if you’re not careful.
This latest feature from indie filmmaker David Lowery confirms what I suspected – that he is a romantic and a nostalgic at heart. His first movie, 2009’s “St. Nick,” had kids on the run in a Tom Sawyer-esque tale. “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” has distant echoes of Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” – although Lowery’s intimate storytelling seems closer to the Altman school and his bloodletting doesn’t come close to Penn’s.
The “Saints” are mostly sinners.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star as Ruth Guthrie and Bob Muldoon, small-town grifters with outsized dreams. The movie is set in Texas, as all good Western-flavored shoot-’em-ups should be.
Bob and Ruth fall in love in a field of wildflowers. Though they are destined for poverty, they are disinclined to settle for that. Their 1970s coming-of-age crime story – like the bump in the road of Meridian, where they live – is mostly unruffled by modern times.
A baby is on the way when a robbery goes wrong. The shootout with the cops leaves one of the robbers dead and Sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) wounded. The scene is as poetic as it is bloody, guns blazing from a deserted wooden farmhouse, dreams dying faster than the friend who pulled the job with them.
Much of the movie and its writer-director’s musing turn on what happens next.
Bob, Ruth and Sheriff Wheeler each face challenges, choices and possible second chances. Keith Carradine plays Skerritt, a stoic old lawman who knows all the parties involved and is trying to look out for everyone’s best interests, especially those of Ruth and her daughter, Sylvie (Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith).
Though Lowery is skillful with dialogue, there are ways he ties the events together that are knotty.
The first is the most problematic. Though a natural fall guy is right at their feet, felled by the cops and long past complaining about issues like loyalty and betrayal, Bob grabs the gun that shot the sheriff.
The director’s habit of falling in love with all of his “Saints” has its drawbacks. The day of reckoning comes as more of an afterthought, after other more interesting thoughts.
Whether you’ll want to forgive that indiscretion depends. I’m a bit of a romantic too, so I’ll take Lowery’s “Saints,” flaws and all.
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
H H H 1/2 I
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine
Director: David Lowery
Running time: 1:45
Rated: R; some violence