Director of photography Bradford Young worked his magic once again and the outcome simply leaves you breathless: the Texas landscape is glittering under the soft sky, wrapped in a golden aura that makes you wanna lose yourself in this visual paradise. Now, this guy does this for a living and one could hardly hold this against him; the director, David Lowery, on the other hand, is so swept off his feet with the scenery that drags the predictable plot beyond patience. In a word, it is up to you to decide whether Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is exceptionally visual or poorly plotted. To my mind, this gorgeous movie swings dangerously between visual pleasure and predictable, unspread storyline. The one thing that saves them all is the great performances of Rooney Mara (Ruth), Cassey Affleck (Bob Muldoon) and Ben Foster (Patrick).
The ingenuous versions of Bonnie and Clyde, Ruth and Bob are part of a gang of bandits that choose to live a life of outlaws that obviously goes sour. Surrounded by the police force in an abandoned house, three of them -Ruth, Bob and Freddy- fight back till the former shoots a policeman, Patrick, and the latter gets killed. Bob takes the blame for the shooting, asking pregnant sweetheart, Ruth, to play the victim and wait for him. Four years later, Ruth and her daughter Sylvie are leading an ordinary existence under Patrick's protective eye when the news of Bob's escape hits the news. Ruth sends him word through Skerritt (Keith Carradine) -Freddy's father and the brain operation during the old bandit days- not to come after them as he'll get caught. As it often goes, love is unstoppable and subject to many misfortunes so the rest of the story is foreseeable.
The frail woman, with mute gestures and hurting eyes is the center of this love triangle: outlaw- object of desire- lawman. And Rooney Mara really plays the card of the needy, rebellious teenage beauty turned into a miserable, silent mother who hasn't slept in four years and hasn't ceased to love the bad guy. But then again, how bad is Bob? He is not a cold-blooded criminal and later on, during his escape adventure, we see hesitation and despair in his eyes and reluctance in his hand while pulling the trigger. He is full of dreams of a better future, love for a woman who promised to be his forever, anticipation to meet his little girl and a naivety that makes him walk around with a suitcase full of cash. Patrick, the lawman, feels mysteriously drawn to the woman who shot him, as if his wounded gasp for air met her panicked gaze somewhere on the clear blue Texas sky and forever bound to one another. Ruth says little to him, yet her body language and noiseless looks and moves are accepting. Her heart still belongs to the outlaw out of a sense of duty and long-lost teenage love, yet her quiet gaze, frailty and tormented soul draw the sheriff deputy towards her. The shy smiles hidden under Patrick's fair moustache and his moist eyes speak more than a thousand words to Ruth's heart and his kindness to her and the little girl are a balm to her bleeding heart.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not about big gestures, feels hardly set in a palpable time and place, identifying with the unfortunate fate of faceless Ruths and Bobs, a simple story that rather builds around body movement, gestures, looks and unspoken truths. It is a movie where the middle part is more important than the beginning of the story or the predictable denouement, where the time in-between is more intense, complicated and dramatic than the happy smile on the face of the audience once they are offered the well-guessed ending. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints also recalls echoes of past similar stories such as Terence Malick’s 1973 first feature, Badlands, another romance on the run; however, it has its own rhythm and pace, a fullness and beauty that warm the heart and thrill the eye. The experience feels immediate, throwing the viewer right into the cosy Texas fields, stirring the senses and drawing him into plotting the story. The mixed emotions and the modernism of the film itself shall keep on lingering within the audience, courtesy of Bradford Young' s imagery and Daniel Hart's great score, turning Ain’t Them Bodies Saints into a worthwhile journey.