AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery, 2013)


Love will separate and eventually reunite husband and wife Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) in first-time writer/director David Lowery's compelling low-key drama AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, a film that fills your eyes with endless majesty of the Texan landscape, all the while weaving a searing tale of a man who takes the place of her wife in jail, and who breaks out of prison so he can be reunited with her, and cherish the daughter he's never met.

The film does not glorify crime in any way, and Lowery presents his subject of crime and punishment in such manner that we are able to reflect on the human toll of what Bob and Ruth did, and not only their broken family is affected. We also see old man Skerritt (Keith Carradine) fall into pieces and slowly pick up his life again after his son Freddy (Kentucker Audley) unluckily gets gunned down by the police after the last robbery to which Freddy, Bob, and Ruth are involved with. 

Skerritt is the de facto patriarch to Bob and Ruth, and after Bob is imprisoned, he makes sure that Ruth and her daughter is well-provided for. With Bob's return, he also educates the young man the difference about what's right and what's necessary. 

A series of letters and voice overs tell us of Bob's longing for Ruth, and the gentleness of Casey Affleck's voice lends empathy for his weary character; meanwhile, Rooney Mara is chillingly effective as Ruth that her mere eyes speak what's inside her thoughts. 

A slow country score envelops the exodus of these two lovers, paired with Bradford Young's dreamy cinematography that almost lulls the viewer to sleep. But the story reminds us the seriousness of the situation, and grounds us on our feet.

Every moment is danger. Every minute seems farther away from each other. The journey of Inman (Jude Law) back to Ada (Nicole Kidman) in COLD MOUNTAIN comes into mind. Oh, the pain and horror and ambivalence of wanting something (or someone), and having it within arm's length, and at the same time, not at all. 

To complete a triad of complexity, Lowery adds Ben Foster in the role of lawman Patrick Wheeler, the cop whom Ruth shoots and injures early in the film, and which causes Bob's incarceration. Patrick does not know this, and he shows kindness and tenderness towards Ruth and her daughter while Bob is absent from the picture. And this is where it gets heartbreaking. 

Whereas most writers would normally portray Wheeler the third wheel, Lowery maintained the character as a force of good, who will protect Ruth and her child from whatever harm that may befall them. For a moment there, some sexual tension arises but Lowery quickly fans out the flames. He wants Wheeler to retain his moral high ground.

Rooney Mara's line towards the end of the film is just the cherry on top of this emotional yarn: "I've been waiting for you." Never knew that such simple words could be so disarming.

Beautifully shot, edited, scored, and acted by a cinematic dream team of today's finest young actors, AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a testament to the timeless powers of love and sacrifice, an indelible cinematic imprint that turns the fugitive suspense-drama genre on its head. 

RATING: 5/5  

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