The Sundance Institute's Writing Lab has become one of the most instrumental stepping stones for amateur screenwriters to bring their stories to the big screen. Earlier this year we witnessed the shining example, Fruitvale Station. Well, another Sundance Institute's selection comes in the form of David Lowery's much talked about feature, Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Nontraditional and undoubtedly unique, Lowery's work has opened up many eyes within the industry.
Bob (played by Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are young lovers from Texas expecting a child and desperate for a better life. But when their aspirations turn them into outlaws, the couple finds itself in the midst of a shootout with local authorities. Bob claims responsibility for their actions and is sentenced to 25 years in jail, while Ruth plays naive and merely walks away with a slap on the wrist. As a few years pass and Ruth raises their young daughter, Bob escapes from prison with hopes of reuniting with his family.
Budding filmmaker David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints delivers profound aesthetics and very little more. Ambiguous to a fault, the feature claws its way to the finish line by offering a minimal amount of substance. Although the love story is sincere and the characters have a reasonable amount of depth to them, Ain't Them Bodies Saints would rather focus on its pristine cinematography than crafting a fluid and crowd-pleasing story. Make no mistake about it, Lowery's breakthrough film is flat out boring and uninformative. While I understand the director's intention by omitting various details, the plan ultimately backfires and fails to enhance what Lowery feels are the more important aspects of the story. Therefore, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a polarizing feature that will be lauded by some and alienated by others.
No matter how you may feel about the movie, one thing is certain. Director David Lowery deserves to be recognized for his daring attempt at straying from the standard love story. There's something dark and ominous about their fiery relationship, and Ain't Them Bodies Saints refuses to shy away from that significant fact. However, the film generates a vibe that never wavers and, as a result, the conclusion lacks bravado. Conversely, another commendable facet of the film is its talented cast. Rooney Mara clearly gives the most impressive turn, yet Casey Affleck and Ben Foster are both exceptional as well. But despite these towering performances, Ain't Them Bodies Saints drowns in its tragic strive for artistic beauty.
David Lowery molds together a genuinely poetic feature, one that's intended to move the audience. Ironically, for as branched out as Ain't Them Bodies Saints feels on an artistic level, the film's story remains trapped inside of its shell. Breaking from the norm is always challenging. And although I praise director David Lowery for his efforts, his feature never successfully withstands the test.