sun 25/02/2024

Ain't Them Bodies Saints | reviews, news & interviews

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in an intoxicating neo-Western

Crime of passion: Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as doomed lovers Ruth and Bob

The question of what makes a romance click on screen – what combination of elements goes into creating that indefinable spark between two projected faces – is one of the most eternal for filmmakers. David Lowery’s wistful, lyrical neo-Western has just over 10 minutes to make you invest in doomed lovers Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) before fate and justice do them part, and succeeds with breathtaking ease.

Their snatched moments together, like most of Lowery’s film, settle over you like half-remembered dreams, images that burrow deep into your subconscious and re-emerge hours, days, weeks after the credits roll. Assuming, that is, that you’re along for the ride. The pacing alone – like wading through molasses – ensures that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints will not suit every palette, but it’s so richly detailed that every second feels precious.

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'Steeped in New Hollywood nostalgia, Saints feels initially like Bonnie & Clyde as retold by Terence Malick, until Bob and Ruth’s crime spree is cut abruptly short by her accidental shooting of a local sheriff (Ben Foster). Bob takes the rap and goes to jail, promising he’ll come back for Ruth and their unborn daughter. So begins their separate trajectories of longing; hers all warm-hued close ups, his metal-cold wide shots, Bradford Young’s heady cinematography mapping the distance between them. The wrench in the mix is Foster’s sheriff, who takes an interest in Ruth and her daughter without realising that it was she who pulled the trigger on him.

Mara’s impassive, almost mask-like features were used to unsettling effect by Steven Soderbergh earlier this year in Side Effects, but here their impact is moving. Like a whisper that forces you to lean in, her face demands close attention lest you miss something, and her scenes with her daughter are breathtakingly warm and intimate. As time drags on and no reunion comes, the sense emerges that these scenes are coloured more than anything by Bob’s yearning for the family he has never known, his viewpoint bleeding seamlessly into Lowery’s and ours.

Affleck’s best performance to date was in 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and while this postmodern Western is several decades and thematic strokes away from that film, he gives a similarly mesmeric and emotionally committed turn here.

The title, if you’re wondering, has no meaning beyond mood-setting – Lowery mis-remembered the lyrics of an old American folk song, but felt the title captured the right regional feel. Atmosphere dominates here; the combination of nostalgia and thwarted young love is intoxicating, only becoming more so as these characters grow older and sadder and wiser. The story is as simple as it gets, but this is closer to sense experience than narrative, the kind of pleasure that sweeps you up and sets you down somewhere new.

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for Ain't Them Bodies Saints


Like a whisper that forces you to lean in, Mara's face demands close attention lest you miss something


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters