DAILY | Sundance 2013 | David Lowery’s AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

“A beautiful, densely textured elegy for outlaw lovers separated by their own misdeeds, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints [tumblr] will serve most decisively to put director-writer David Lowery on the map as one of the foremost young standard bearers of the Malick and Altman schools of impressionistic mood-drenched cinema,” begins Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. “This poetically told Texas crime saga is deeply and, to be honest, naively sentimental at its core, which creates something of a drain on its seriousness. But it’s a constant pleasure to watch and listen to.”

At the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez notes that Lowery’s “an editor, cinematographer, writer, electrical department hand and more (fun fact: he’s also the editor of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color)…. Lowery is the real deal and understands filmmaking, and this is abundantly clear in this searing, romantic crime drama and love story…. With a muddy drawn title card that reads, ‘This was in Texas,’ the film opens up with a beautiful and then arresting and electric ten-minute prologue. Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and his child wife Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are criminals. They’re also passionate lovers, and she’s expecting a baby. They plan a robbery with their pal Freddy (Kentucker Audley), but soon the law have them cornered in a violent shoot-out. Freddy is killed. Ruth shoots a police officer named Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), and sensing bloody revenge and no way out, Bob surrenders and takes the blame for shooting the lawman despite Ruth’s pleas to make a run for it. Saints then begins.”

“From this point onwards,” writes Guy Lodge at In Contention, “I found it hard not to imagine this languid, pictorially rich film as a belated sequel to Terrence Malick’s Badlands, even if its indeterminate 1970s backdrop is in keeping with the production rather than setting of Malick’s debut…. But if this is open homage, it comes with its own narrative motivations: where many a great American film has been made about criminal activity, it’s rarer to have one equally interested in criminal inactivity.”

“Slow as molasses but every bit as rich,” writes Peter Debruge in Variety. “Affleck and Mara manage their cotton-mouthed accents reasonably well, but haven’t mastered the specific skill Saints so keenly requires—namely, externalizing the emotional intricacies their characters can never find the words to say aloud. Foster, on the other hand, does this better than almost anyone of his generation, and while his performance here seems notably restrained, turmoil clearly churns just below the surface, which of course, is precisely what the pic is going for.”

Tim Grierson in Screen: “All three principal characters are types we’ve seen scores of times before—the plucky outlaw, the loyal good girl, the lawman drawn into their web—but the performances are so effortless and controlled that the actors transcend the clichés, giving the roles a timeless quality that consciously pushes this film into the realm of a folktale.”

“Beautifully shot by Bradford Young and scored by Daniel Hart, whose banjo and fiddle drone evokes Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s scores without simply copying them, it’s an entrancing mood piece,” notes Sam Adams at the AV Club.

“For the precious few familiar with Lowery’s previous feature, the minimalist kids-on-the-lam tale St. Nick, the filmmaker’s new work displays a natural evolution,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “While Lowery lingers in quiet moments and draws out certain scenes to the point where they start to drift away from a generally enthralling pace, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints maintains a strong linear approach that makes the collage of cinematic trickery more philosophically engaging than in his previous work. ‘We did what we did and that is who we are,’ Bob says early on, an assertion tested as Ruth faces her lingering doubts.”

“Damn near nothing happens during the film, but after a long enough exposure to them, you will feel for the characters, as if by emotional osmosis,” finds‘s Jordan Hoffman.

Indiewire has a quick Q&A with Lowery, but Eric Kohn covers a lot more ground in his interview. Anne Thompson covers the premiere press conference. Dan Schoenbrun has five questions for Lowery at Filmmaker, where he also has a bit more to say about the film’s making. And IW‘s Jay A. Fernandez reports that Saints and its producers, Toby Halbrooks and James M. Johnston of Sailor Bear, have won the 2013 Indian Paintbrush Producer’s Award, which comes with a $10,000 grant.

Updates, 1/26: First, the news. IFC Films has picked the film up, report Jay A. Fernandez and Anne Thompson at Indiewire.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Ben Foster, Rooney Mara, David Lowery, and Casey Affleck in Park City

The Voice‘s Scott Foundas: “Probably the most visually arresting movie in the festival alongside Upstream Color, ATBS drips with terminally imitative Terrence Malick-isms—including (but not limited to) cameos from such regular members of the Malick stock company as bodies posed artfully against magic-hour skies, hands gently caressing tall grass, crisp white linen blowing in the breeze and (on the soundtrack) tremolo strings straining for the ethereal. But where Carruth’s film feels vibrantly alive with meaning, Lowery’s too often seems embalmed with stylization, including the decision to have the (very fine) actors deliver nearly all their lines in breathy half-whispers.”

“This story has been told a zillion different times, occasionally in the same it’s-magic-hour-every-hour way,” grants Time Out New York‘s David Fear. “So credit Lowery’s dedication to creating a specific atmosphere, as well as cinematographer Bradford Young’s lush imagery and the cast (including the mighty Keith Carradine), for lifting this beyond being just a faithful cover version of the ol’ outlaw blues. There’s real craft at work here, the kind that makes the film’s poetic ruralism elevate the proceedings and lends a palpable sense of foreboding as fate nudges everyone into place for the final act.”

“Like another Casey Affleck film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it’s sort of an anti-Western, a frontier myth at the frontier of fact and fairy tale,” offers Zach Baron at Grantland. “Mara and Affleck and Foster are all terrific in it, and their refusal to say much about the movie after it screens feels like a tribute to the film’s understated power.”

For Time Out Chicago‘s A.A. Dowd, though, Saints is “a well-shot but mostly bloodless attempt to mimic the outlaw poetry of Badlands or The Assassination of Jesse James… To hear many critics tell it, the Grand Jury prize is Lowery’s to lose; if that’s true, I think we’ve just found this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. And no, I don’t mean that as a compliment.”

“Rooney Mara, in her first role since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, proves several times over that her Oscar-nominated turn was far from a fluke,” writes Michael Nordine at Film Threat.

Overall, five out of five stars from Sebastian Doggart in the Guardian. The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez talks with Lowery about Saints, co-writing Yen Tan’s Pit Stop, and editing Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color.

Updates, 2/3: “Some Sundance viewers found ready comparisons to Terrence Malick’s early films,” notes Ray Pride, “but more than Malick, Saints seethes with the sparse parsing of Cormac McCarthy, the fated trajectory of trudge in Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, the intimately tactile character of Claire Denis‘s many movies…. The characters sometimes sound like their words have been running in their heads for months and years, like the brittle pages of a scrapbook that’s been a hot attic for so many summers and flipped into crumbs.”

Rooftop Films’ Mark Elijah Rosenberg: “There is a certain hypnotic power in David Lowery’s films, which I have written about before (as with his debut feature, St. Nick). His films exude a tension and danger that is larger than any element in them—his characters are quiet and simply drawn, but you sense depth and passion in them; his filmmaking is subtle and understated, but there’s an energy in every shot; his stories are focused and direct, but they contain grandeur.”

“Lowery seems less concerned about pinning down specifics within the story as he is with creating a ‘legend’ on screen,” finds John Wildman, writing for Film Comment. “The precision and professionalism work against the film a little, opening up a bit too much distance for us to become completely invested in their collective fates. Mind you, this is admittedly splitting hairs, as the film is more than good enough to deserve the scrutiny.”

And Cory Everett talks with Lowery for the Playlist.

Update, 5/18: Viewing (24’07”). Anne Thompson interviews Lowery.

Update, 5/20: “In France, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is being called Les Amants du Texas—an elemental title well-suited to the film’s wisp of a plot,” finds Ben Kenigsberg at “Padded with shots of sunsets and country roads, the movie relies heavily on a woozy, lyrical style that increasingly plays like an affectation. Mara is a forceful screen presence who seems out of place in the ’70s setting, while Affleck’s character is little more than a moving target. Lowery… has a good eye, but his Malick-lite approach isn’t a great fit. This plot calls for the energy of peak Sam Peckinpah.

Update, 5/21: “Wearing its influences on its sleeve but never feeling stale or contrived, Saints is an immaculate piece of storytelling that boasts serious talent whichever way you look,” writes Adam Woodward at Little White Lies.

Update, 5/23: “The first thing I said to Rooney Mara was so wrong, it turned out right.” For Grantland, Karina Longworth interviews Mara and Casey Affleck: “Essentially an experimental fiction film presented in documentary style, I’m Still Here was, Affleck suggests, drastically misinterpreted. ‘Which maybe just says I didn’t do a good enough job. I thought it was a comedy. Other people didn’t find it all that funny.’ Did it make his life as an actor more difficult? Affleck sighs. ‘That just made my life more difficult in general.'”

Update, 5/24:

Update, 5/31:

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