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Ain't Them Bodies Saints - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published November 7th 2013
Do American films need subtitles?
Director: David Lowery (St Nick, Deadroom)
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine

Can we all agree that any film featuring Casey Affleck needs to have subtitles? The combination of that soft, high pitched whisper, the mumbling that trails off at every sentence, and that thick Southern accent (he was actually born in Massachusetts) renders him incomprehensible. Disturbingly, he's getting worse. From The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, through Gone Baby Gone to the execrable The Killer Inside Me, it has become a major undertaking to understand what his characters are on about. God knows Ain't Them Bodies Saints is hard enough to enjoy without his soporific affectations.

aint them bodies saints rooney mara casey affleck
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as Ruth and Bob, a modern day Bonnie and Clyde

Although the film has failed to set the box office on fire in the States, it does have its admirers, with some comparing it favourably to the works of Terrence Malick. Any similarities, however, prove superficial. It may be a pastoral tale told at a lugubrious pace, but it has none of the profound existentialism at the heart of Mallick's best films.

The story centres on a Texan criminal (Affleck) who, having escaped from prison, attempts to hide from both the law and his enemies, while trying to covertly reconnect with his wife, played by Rooney Mara.

Apart from the film's deliberate pacing, its main handicap is that it's hard to muster up any sympathy for Affleck's outlaw. He's a charmless thug, lacking any kind of charisma or redeeming features. The always resourceful Mara is hands down the best thing about the film, and while Ben Foster's responsible sheriff turn is a contrast to the kind of unhinged wacko he usually plays, he's gone so far in the other direction that he doesn't register enough.

aint them bodies saints ben foster
Ben Foster reigns in his performance as Sheriff Wheeler

Incidentally, if you're waiting for the film's title to be explained, don't bother. Apparently the director just misheard the lyrics to a song, it has nothing to do with anything.

Saints is beautifully photographed, but slim on plot or character development. Sadly there's nothing new under this southern sun.

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Why? For fans of moody, independent cinema.
Where: At selected cinemas
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