The Sundance film festival is by and large the biggest and best film festival around. While each year seems to have their fair share of great films, this year’s fest seemed to be one of the best in recent memories. Sure, there were the great flicks like Fruitvale Station, Before Midnight, and Mud that everyone had a feeling would be great beforehand, but also a few surprises. Movies like Blue Caprice, In a World, Kings of Summer, and Prince Avalanche went under the radar, but turned out to be great films in their own respective ways. Perhaps one of the biggest hits of the festival was Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
Winner of the the Cinematography Award and nominee for the Grand Jury Prize for Dramas, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a huge hit at festival circuit, with much praise being brought to the film for its great look, atmosphere, and performances by its respective cast. Then when the film came out, the reviews seemed to have matched that great word of mouth, with the film being one of the better received movies of the year so far. Personally though, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a huge disappointment.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints follows a couple who was split up by the law when outlaw Bob is taken into prison. Bob, though, breaks out of jail, and goes back to find his wife.
This cast assembled here does a great job. Casey Affleck does not get nearly enough of the credit that he deserves as an actor; he has turned out to be great, perhaps even better than his brother. Here Affleck does a solid job, (he always does in these type of roles). He is able to bring a lot to the film with his quiet nature and great accent. Although, Affleck has done performances similar to this before, so it would be nice to see him stretch himself as an actor soon.
Rooney Mara is one of my new favorite actresses, having consistently great performances since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Here Mara has a much simpler role, but is able to execute it well. Mara has a way of giving off a lot of complexity and conflict just through the look on her face, giving this character a lot more weight. Ben Foster has always been a solid actor, and is able to give a solid performance with a kind of thankless role.
The aesthetics in the movie have been praised for a reason, they are gorgeous. Cinematographer Bradford Young does a fantastic job here with capturing a great look for the film, similar to the 70’s-type films it pays homage to. It captures this very poetic look, with each shot having a sort of lyrical feeling compared to the rest. It all looks great, but it’s even more of a letdown that the story isn’t able to match that great visual panache.
The story here is just very familiar. This kind of doomed love story has been done to death, and instead of really adding to it or making it more unpredictable, the film plays out exactly as you thought it would. For a movie that markets itself as a thriller to be predictable at almost every turn is not good at all. It seemed like a lot more could have done here by writer David Lowery.
Not only is the story familiar, but the story itself really does not have much depth. Going into the film, I was expecting it to take this familiar concept, and make it new with deep characters and even a few interesting underlying themes. The film disappointingly barely attempts much character development aside from the bare essentials, and there was very little attempt at an interesting message.
This film feels eerily similar to a Terrence Malick film, as I would even say director David Lowery is Terrence Malick-like. The film tries very hard to have that aimless and meandering through its ideas approach to its story and concepts, which for a film that has a very straightforward narrative, does not really work. Malick films do this well because the story itself is very loose, allowing Malick to kind of just stretch his creative muscle, while Lowery is confined to a very defined story structure.
The pacing here is very problematic. Since it attempts a very Malick-like attempt of storytelling, the film moves like molasses. Where some films are able to get away with a very slow pace, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints really feels long. The film is only about 90 minutes, but its snail-like pace made it feel around 2 and a half hours long. Personally, this would be fine if the movie had good depth and a solid emotional connection, but it does not.
The biggest problem with the film is a personal one, but there was a complete emotional disconnect with the film and myself. Personally, the emotion of it all really did not ring true at all. Throughout its running time, I never felt connected to the movie and where it was going, which ended up with the film really leaving me cold when it came time to its finale. This is a shame because it has some well-executed elements throughout.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has a great deal going for it, and from a technical aspect is a well made flick. Still, the movie had a emotional disconnect with me, due to the lack of depth and sense of familiarity the film has in its storyline.
Take a Shot: For each artsy shot in the film.
Take a Shot: For each long monologue by a character.
Take a Drink: During each slow moment.