Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ain't Them Bodies Saints Review

David Lowery's 2013 drama Ain't Them Bodies Saints brings to mind the concept of all style and no substance, but I have felt that it is a far too extreme phrase in regards to many of the works it ends up being applied to and thus I typically try to avoid it. How often is it fair to actually label something as ALL style and NO substance?

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is often times captivating, but that has very little to do with the oddly cold and mostly lifeless narrative involving a man named Bob (Casey Affleck) on the run from the law after he escapes from prison, hoping to reunite with the love of his life (Rooney Mara) and the child he fathered yet has never met in person. The actors all show up and deliver fine work here, which is especially complimentary to say given the rather bland story that does little to invoke an emotional connection, but the real star of the show is the gorgeous cinematography, the sweeping landscapes and the brilliant framing and lighting of characters seen throughout. On a technical level, Lowery's film is a triumph, enough so that I can honestly say I was both bored and yet somehow engaged throughout. My mind was shutting down as I developed no connection to the people or their relationships, yet my eyes wouldn't allow me to look away.

The fatal flaw of the film for me is found in the opening few minutes when only a handful of brief scenes are utilized to develop an intense love between a man and a woman through a few smiles and a quick promise to wait for their passion to be possible again. It simply wasn't enough to get me to buy in to an entire plot focused on the difficulties of them reconnecting again due to Bob being on the run from the law. Any attempt at a literal romance failed to resonate, yet Lowery managed to craft a romantic film thanks to the rural setting and the warm glow of the sun filtering through the darkness. I could have watched this on mute and my heart would have been aflutter over the striking attempt at following in the footsteps of what Terrence Malick achieved with his masterful debut film Badlands, but on every other level Lowery falls short of such a lofty comparison.

The main thing to take away from Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a positive though, and that is the obvious potential for Lowery to take the next step and unleash a true wondrous work in the near future. The man has a gift for how to make a film look and feel like something spectacular, and if he can put it all together and present a narrative dripping with as much beauty as the aesthetic, the possibilities are mind boggling.


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