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LA Film Fest: ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

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Writer/director David Lowery has what seems like a cliché story.  In 1970s Texas, an outlaw escapes from prison to find the wife and the daughter he’s never met. But Lowery paints this story with a different, intimate, film-noir brush. Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints opened at the LA Film Festival Saturday, June 15.

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as ill-fated lovers

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as ill-fated lovers

He is aided in this task by evocative acting from Rooney Mara (The Social NetworkThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who plays Ruth, the wife waiting for her convict husband. Casey Affleck (Ocean’s Thirteen, Gone Baby Gone)  plays the husband Bob. They are joined in the cast by Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, 30 Days of Night) who plays Patrick, a lawman, and Keith Carradine (Dexter, Deadwood) who plays Skerritt, a shady character pulling secret strings.

The initial crime and the inevitable shootouts are here, but rather than being the story, they almost seem to interrupt it. The story focuses on the times in between. Ruth’s relationships with her daughter and Bob, then Patrick form the core of the story. Skerritt’s relationships with everyone remain mysterious to the end.

Writer/director Lowery uses understatement and extreme close-ups to tell his tale. There is a lot of dialog – almost stream of consciousness. Probably 80 percent of the scenes bring us intimately close to the characters. One almost feels like a part of the story. The actors whisper it to you.

Craig McKay and Jane Rizzo’s editing is masterful. It illuminates the characters’ thoughts, and feelings in a way I’ve never seen before on screen.

Rooney Mara with a letter

Rooney Mara as Ruth reading a letter from her imprisoned husband.

The cinematography, besides being “in-their-face”, uses ambient light indoors and afternoon and morning light (sometimes called “golden hour” photography) in the exteriors.  The softness and shadows add to the noir feeling of the film.

The plot incorporates some mysterious elements and twists. I thought for a while that I had missed something, and then that there certain things to be left unexplained. The plot twists do untwist, but the plot seems not as important as the relationships between the characters.

In notes provided by IFC Films, writer/director Lowery explained what he wanted people to take away from the film: “I wanted them to feel like they’ve just heard an old folk song. Some old ballad or piece of folklore that someone like Bob Dylan might have done a cover of. The whole movie was meant to feel like a song. Classical, American, a little rough around the edges – and it’s meant to feel very old. But like a great piece of music, the emotions are timeless and classical and, hopefully, relevant.”

People get shot, but this is not a shoot-em-up. It is a beautiful film.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints opens in theaters August 16, 2013.

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About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.