Monday, August 12, 2013

Dark, dirty 'n deep: David Lowery's ten- fest darling AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS

Just why do Ruth and Bob, the two lovers at the heart of AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, break the law? And what exactly have they done that broke it? "We're just doin' what you taught us," Ruth (Rooney Mara) says to a fellow named Skerritt (Keith Caradine), who may be her father, stepfather, friend or mentor. We don't know much about this, either. In fact, we don't know or even learn much about anything that's going on in this very odd but increasingly hypnotic and enticing movie. Except that Bob (Casey Affleck) is taken off to prison, while Ruth, pregnant, remains behind.

In this, the third full-length film from a writer/
director (and sometimes, though not here, editor and cinematograp-her) David Lowery (shown at left), who has made a passel of shorts, the filmmaker seems bent on exploring and finding a truly different way to tell a story. His movie is tough-going and asks a lot of the audience because it gives us so little of the kind of exposition and explanation we're used to. Yet if you stick with it, the film grows in power. And, yes, there is indeed quite a payoff.

We're back in Texas again, but not the generally benign place we saw in Bernie or Tales from Dell City). No -- this is the land of louts and the like, where the social contract can most often and quickly be found at the end of a gun. Bodies/Saints is also, and most peculiarly, a love story. It begins with a declaration of love, above (which must then be proven throughout the remainder of the film) and a simultaneous arrest.

This it is is one of the reasons Mr. Lowery's film is so powerful. The style is dark -- sometimes even dank -- impressionistic and frac-tured. At times you'll wonder if this is really a tale of love, or instead obsession, maybe insanity. Perhaps all of the above, as some kinds of love embrace a world beyond mere hugs and kisses.

Lowery has cast his three leads very well. Mr Affleck (two photos above) uses his pretty, boyish face as well as he did in both The Assassination of Jesse James... and The Killer Inside Me, but to a very different purpose, while Ms Mara (above and below) uses her ability to make "quiet" seem remarkably rich and foreboding to create a character whom is actually quite simple. We keep trying to give her more reasons and/or abilities, but no -- her Ruth is as single-minded and obsessive as is her man. These characters don't seem to be particularly bright, but they sure are focused.

The third wheel is the police officer (Ben Foster, below) who has been there all the while, since that initial arrest, biding his time, pining unrequitedly for Ruth and finally, providing everything a man can -- except the sex -- to no avail. Mr. Foster, in an unusually passive role, is fine but doesn't register as strongly as he often does. No one can complete nor outdo these two lovers in the movie's imagination.

The film is often shot so darkly that many of the subsidiary characters -- the gunmen who come after Bob, for instance -- don't register as more than villainous blips on the radar. If Bob's friend Sweetie (Nate Parker) shines brighter than the rest, that may be because he has a little light shed on him now and then.

The film is heavy going for awhile, but as I say, if you stick with it even to the halfway point, it will probably hook you, and from there drag you -- kicking and screaming but also marveling at how strong a love story this is -- all the way home.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints, from IFC Films and running maybe just a little long at 105 minutes, opens this Friday, August 16, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Walter Reade in Los Angeles at The Landmark Elsewhere? Yes, in around 25 cities over the next few weeks. In any case, it begins its VOD run in just one week on Friday, August 23.

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