Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Jan 29th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Texas Tease

filmRapturous outlaw romance ‘Ain't Them Bodies Saints’ looks great, less filling

From the Terrence Malick school of evocative visual splendor comes the outlaw romance Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Written and directed by David Lowery, a longtime art house editor and occasional cinematographer whose work has mostly been in short films, Saints is drenched in atmosphere—artfully filtered sunlight, blue moonlight, misty dawns, heat, dust and shadows. Frame for frame, it's often lovely to behold.

But what exactly all this atmosphere is evoking is another matter. An undefined sense of yearning and longing underscores every minute of the film, but it's never directed at a target that the viewer can quite get a handle on, except in very basic terms. A novice robber and his pregnant girlfriend are separated by a four-year prison stretch. He busts out and longs to return to her, while she yearns to shelter her little daughter from any kind of psychological distress. And that's it for both plot and characterization. The rest is small-town, backwoods Southern ambience, a dynamic fiddle, banjo and hand-clapping soundtrack, and a story that inches along on nuances that never quite explore what makes the characters tick.

The opening title card, "This was in Texas," sets the mood that this is a story being related between friends over a cup of coffee, or a bottle of moonshine. Lowery keeps the time period deliberately obscure (like the film's head-scratching title), opting to replicate the timelessness of a folk ballad, like, say, "Frankie and Johnny," with a few modernistic touches, like pick-up trucks and one character's '70s-era handlebar moustache.

Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are a couple of backwoods kids with a baby on the way. Bob is a dreamer who likes to talk to Ruth's pregnant belly, assuring the embryo inside how happy their life is going to be together. But the path they choose to reach that dream involves a robbery gone horribly awry. When their friend and partner is killed in a shootout with police, Ruth grabs a gun and shoots blindly out the window, wounding an officer. To protect her and the baby, Bob takes the blame and goes to prison.

Four years later, Ruth is living with their little girl, Sylvie, in a rambling farmhouse provided by her neighbor, Skerritt (Keith Carradine), a tough old so-and-so who runs the local general store. His son was the accomplice killed in the shootout, and it's suggested that he also had a hand in raising Bob, and possibly Ruth, as well. When word comes that (after several attempts) Bob has finally busted out of prison, everyone is on alert—the ambivalent Ruth, who loves Bob but wants to keep their daughter safe, Skerritt, determined not to lose his new surrogate family, and Wheeler (Ben Foster), the lawman shot in the gun battle, who's drawn to Ruth.

The action shifts between three fronts: Bob on the lam, hiding out with his bartender buddy, Sweetie (Nate Parker) and trying to get back to Ruth and Sylvie to take them away, Wheeler's shy courtship of Ruth, and Skerritt's determination to keep "those girls" out of harm's way. All these scenarios are intensified by a trio of snarling bounty hunters on Bob's trail. But while the action is comprehensible, given what little we know about the characters, Lowery's script never goes deep enough into their psyches to make them memorable. There's nothing to distinguish these protagonists from a dozen other romanticized outlaw-on-the-lam movies.

Unlike Malick, whose richest films eschew dialogue in favor of the occasional interior monologue, or simply ask us to absorb the film on an experiential level, what the characters say to each other in Saints does often matter. Lowery depends on the viewer being charmed by the poetic quality of Bob's delusional fantasies, and he drops hints of Skerritt's past history with the couple into the spare snatches of conversation he has with both Ruth and Bob—but the viewer has to be quick to catch them. Which leads to another problem: between the characters' Texas twangs, and the actors' tendency to swallow their words in hushed, intimate scenes, the dialogue is often impossible to understand. For best results, viewers are advised to see it on a big screen. 

AIN'T THEM  BODIES SAINTS  ★ ★ 1/2 (out of four)

With Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster. Written and directed by David Lowery. Rated R. 105 minutes.  This film opens soon at The Nick.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Throwing It All Away

Everybody’s for recycling, right? So why are we all doing it wrong? Our reporter gets down and dirty to uncover 10 secrets that will finally make the recycling process make sense

 

Aquarius Calling, Humanity Rising

Aquarius (11th sign after Aries) is the sign of service—serving one another, building community. Aquarius is fixed air, stabilizing new ideas in the world. When new ideas reach the masses the ideas become ideals within the hearts and minds of humanity. Air signs (Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) are mental. They think, ponder, study, research, gather and distribute information. For air signs, education and learning, communicating, writing, being social, tending to money, participating in groups and creating sustainable communities are most important. One of the present messages Aquarius is putting forth to the New Group of World Servers is the creation of the New Education (thus thinking) for humanity—one based not on commodities (banking/corporate values) but on virtues. Humanity and Aquarius Aquarius is the sign of humanity itself. We are now at the beginnings of the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Humanity (rising). The “rising” is the Aquarian vision of equality, unity, the distribution and sharing of all resources and of individual (Leo) creative gifts for the purpose of humanity’s (Aquarius) uplifting. This is the message in the Solar Festival of Aquarius (at the full moon) on Tuesday, Feb. 3. We join in these visions by reciting the World Prayer of Direction, the Great Invocation.Tuesday’s solar festival follows Monday’s Groundhog Day, or Imbolc (ancient Celtic fire festival) the halfway mark between winter solstice and spring Equinox). The New Group of World Servers (NGWS) during these two days are preparing for the upcoming Three Spring Solar Festivals: 1. Aries Resurrection/Easter Festival (April); 2. Taurus Buddha/Wesak Festival (May); and 3. Gemini’s Festival of Humanity (June). Aquarius and the new and full moons together are the primary astrological influences behind all of humanity’s endeavors. The NGWS are to teach these things, calling and uplifting humanity. Join us everyone. (301)

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Job Insecurity

Woman fights for her job in thoughtful, life-sized ‘Two Days One Night’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Jeffrey’s Restaurant

Why quick and friendly service matters at a local diner.

 

If you didn't live in Santa Cruz, where would you be living?

I would live in Kauai because the water is warmer, and I just love it there. Maureen Niehaus, Santa Cruz, Dental Assistant

 

Clos LaChance Wines

Pinot Noir 2012

 

Striking Gold

A taste of Soquel Vineyards’ five gold medal-winning Pinots