By Bertille de Lestrade
What if the infamous Bonnie and Clyde had lived ? What if Bonnie had gotten pregnant and Clyde had said « honey, you stay home and start knitting, I’ll do the time.”? Then their story would have gotten as dark and slow as Ruth and Bob’s, a much more realistic and dull couple portrayed by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
Ruth and Bob are young, reckless and in love. They are expecting a child, but one too many crime send Bob to jail before he can even dream of meeting his daughter. While Ruth is devotedly waiting for him to return, Bob finally manages to escape but his attempts to reunite with his family won’t be a stroll in the park.
It made me sigh with frustration between yawnings : writer/director David Lowery had almost everything he needed to make a truly beautiful film.
A solid cast to begin with, led by Rooney Mara ( is there anything this girl can’t do ?) as a gentle, brave mother waiting for her man, Casey Affleck that is, who gives a surprisingly moving performance here as the outlaw on the run, desperate to make it back home to his family and not afraid to pull the trigger. Supporting roles are carried with no less talent, by Ben Foster and Keith Carradine in particular, respectively playing the smitten sheriff and the family friend.
If Lowery really nailed something with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, it’s the visuals. They’ve been seen before but who can resist these wild fields showered with dusk light, melancholic girls wandering them in summer dresses and braided hair, huh ? I can’t. The colors, the sets, the costumes were all beautiful and quite subtle for most, going hand in hand with the hypnotic sounds : percussions, country music, and that very unique sort of southern chant, that lingering lament that meets and blurs with the wonderful accents people speak with over there. Lowery captured all these things with a lot of intensity and you can just feel the heat, the drowsiness, the texture of it all.
The only problem is, you get drowsy yourself. Yes, I have to admit, I kind of dozed off a couple of times, for the good reason that NOTHING was happening, and as pretty and well written as it was, it all remained sadly uneventful, too wordy, too heavy. I know it’s not working for me when I catch myself praying for somebody to shoot somebody else. What a pity for such classic, clever dialogues (and a few nicely performed monologues by Casey Affleck) to be supported by such a loose and slow storyline. It felt like watching the adaptation of a Flannery O’Connor short-story from which half the scenario would have been cut out.
Although a predictable one, the movie ends on a more vivid note, (finally something to wake up for), confirming the actors’ talent : it is quite an achievement to make such underwitten characters so touching and likeable. I think many are expecting Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to be a little more « blockbustery » , I myself was pleasantly surprised to see it take a rather intimate road at first, but ended up regretting it didn’t borrow more of that good old Hollywood shine.