What does a title say about a movie? I’ve read a few reviews for this one, and even the people who like the movie have felt the need to crap on the title. I’m the opposite. The ambiguity, grammatical incorrectness and general awkwardness of the title had made me really intrigued. Unfortunately, the movie Ain’t Them Bodies Saints isn’t nearly as interesting or complex as the title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
In Texas, Bob (Casey Affleck) follows his wife Ruth (Roonie Marar) through a field. She’s pissed off about something and returning to her mother’s house. Until she tells him she’s pregnant, then she’s not pissed off anymore and they lovingly embrace. Cut to months later and Bob is affectionately singing into Ruth’s pregnant stomach as they wait in a car for something.
That something turns out to be a robbery which leads to them taking refuge in an abandoned shack before a shootout with the cops that sees their accomplice dead and Bob taking the wrap for Ruth shooting and injuring a cop (Ben Foster). Now he’s off to the big house and she’s off to give birth.
Six or seven years later, the cop Ruth shot has a crush on her, the kid is an adorable moppet and Bob breaks out of prison to find the spoils of his crimes and run away with his wife and daughter. Once on the outside, we meet an old friend of Bob’s, an old mentor to Bob and father figure to Ruth, and some bounty hunters trying to cash in on Bob’s escape. There’s no point in me trying to describe or differentiate any of them any more than that, because the movie never bothers with it either.
I’m not sure which, if any, characters in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints I was supposed to like. Every line of dialogue given to Casey Affleck is talking about how much he loves his wife and daughter and how he’ll do anything to help them, but I don’t care how many artfully crafted monologues he gets, I can’t believe it if I never see any evidence of it. That’s sort of the problem with this movie as a whole. Everyone is constantly talking about their feelings, their motivations, their actions, but no one ever really demonstrates any of them. It’s a movie… Show, don’t tell.
When every single character is tortured, contemplative and dangerous, they all just combine into a big sludge of similarities that meant I could never differentiate anyone’s motives or actions enough to care about anyone. They’re all basically the same character, just approaching the story from slightly different perspectives. Director and writer David Lowery could have mixed and matched any of these actors with any of the speaking roles, and none of the performances would have needed to change at all.
What does a title say about a movie? With Ain’t Them Bodies Saints I guess it kind of proves all the bad things a title like this might suggest. The performances are all strong, I just wish they weren’t all the same. It’s talky and filled with embarrassingly self aware monologues, to the point of the writer’s over indulgence. It assumes there’s no lack of character shaping and earned emotion that can’t be covered up by overly dour direction and faux dramatic contemplation. And since the writer and director are the same bloke, there’s only one person to blame.
Now that I’ve dedicated almost 600 words to inarticulate rambling, I’ll finish with this, a quote from the AV Club’s A.A Dowd who summed up my reservations much more succinctly and eloquently…
“Apparently the cult of Terrence Malick has grown so devoted that even a blatant imitation of his style can now pass as a religious experience. Flush with whispery voice-over and idyllic shots of the American Southwest, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Body Saints drowns a thin, generic outlaw saga in poetic affectation.”