A beautiful, densely textured elegy for outlaw lovers separated by their own misdeeds, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints will serve most decisively to put director-writer David Lowery on the map as one of the foremost young standard bearers of the Malick and Altman schools of impressionistic mood-drenched cinema. This poetically told Texas crime saga is deeply and, to be honest, naively sentimental at its core, which creates something of a drain on its seriousness. But it’s a constant pleasure to watch and listen to, and stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck both have some rewarding strong scenes.
As things grow increasingly dire, Lowery gradually chisels away at the scenario and constructs an extraordinary paean to ghostly southern imagery imbued with a lyricism reflective of his grand literary ambitions. Lowery has mentioned Robert Altman's revisionist western "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" as a key inspiration, but "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" equally suggests a less spiritual take on Terrence Malick's cosmic visions of men and women dwarfed by natural wonders much sturdier than any of their flawed pursuits.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is lovingly rendered thanks to gorgeous photography from cinematographer Bradford Young and lived-in period detail from production designer Jade Healy and art director Jonathan Rudak. (Daniel Hart’s wistful music only heightens the spell.) No matter his derivativeness, Lowery is quite skilful at building emotion and crisscrossing between storylines — Mara and Affleck are almost never on screen together — and so credit must also go to editors Craig McKay, Jane Rizzo and Patrick M. Knicklebine for their seamless transitions and sure pacing.
In the pretentious and interminable Texas noir “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” director David Lowery shows he evidently thinks he’s Terrence Malick, or at least Andrew Dominik. Yeah, right. And I’m Glenn Kenny.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star as husband-and-wife armed robbers (though we never get to see them on the job) who, after a perfunctory shootout in a rural hideout during which a sheriff (Ben Foster) gets wounded and a third robber gets killed, give themselves up to the police. Even though Ruth (Mara) fired the shot that hit the lawman, Bob (Affleck) takes the fall for everything and she walks.