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Sundance Review and Roundup: 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 21, 2013 at 6:41PM

Writer-director David Lowery has been putting in his 10,000 hours over the past few years, working as an editor and cinematographer for hire on many micro-indie projects, as part of the growing multi-tasking barter indie culture. SXSW has championed the Texas filmmaker, playing his shorts and features; "Saint Nick" showed promise on a meager $6000 budget. His 2011 Sundance short "Pioneer" was a ramp-up to this feature film. Now he has collected all his chits and ideas in one exquisitely crafted neo-noir western, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints." The title was a misreading of an old American folk song; Lowery felt that it captured the right "classical, regional" feel, he said at the Saturday premiere press conference.

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.

Screen Daily:

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.

New York Post:

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.

This article is related to: Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Rooney Mara, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.