Movie Review: Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)
According to Casey Affleck, the title is the director David Loweryís misquotation from lyrics of a song and has no actual meaning.
Thatís a bit how I feel about ďAinít Them Bodies Saints.Ē Itís a beautifully atmospheric story that has no actual meaning. Itís inspired by Terrence Malick but it doesnít inspire like Terrence Malick. Itís about a boy and a girl and a shootout and a prison escape, and how thereís no escape. Itís about men who will do what they can to protect a woman who may not be worth protecting. Itís about love and mumbling. A lot of love and a lot of mumbling. Brandoís diction was Gielgudís in comparison.
Full disclosure: Iíve been losing my hearing for a few years but it hasnít really been a problem until now. Until now I just turned up the volume, or leaned forward, or cupped my hand behind my ear like an old man. Last year I went to see about a hearing aid but once you begin to use it you have to use it always. Itís not like glasses, which you can take on and off. The hearing aid would be a thing Iíd put in in the morning and take out at night, and that more than anything else soured me. Something else to add to the routine? Another barnacle to my hull? Not yet.
ďAinít Them Bodies SaintsĒ has convinced me that maybe I do need that hearing aid. So an aspect of that awful fact may color this review.
Trying to catch up to Ruth
Bob (Affleck) begins the movie trying to catch up to Ruth (Rooney Mara). He spends most of the movie doing the same.
Why is she walking away from him at the beginning? Because, in conversation with others, he used the phrase ďon my own.Ē He has to tell her, ďWhen I say Ďon my own,í I mean you and me. I always mean you and me.Ē He says this calmly and sweetly. Then he promises her things: 1) She wonít go to jail; and 2) Heíll work on getting them out of that shack of theirs. Then she drops her bomb. ďI think Iím going to have a baby,Ē she says. He pauses. Then a smile. Itís a gorgeous smile. ďWeíre going to have a baby?Ē he says. Again with the we. I liked him here. I like people who run to love. Sheís running away from it. Sheís already a bit of a pain.
It doesnít take long before they make their play with their friend Freddy (Kentucky Audley), the son of the man, Skerritt (Keith Carradine), who helped raise them. In a shoot-out with the cops, Freddy dies, Ruth wounds one of the cops, Patrick (Ben Foster), and freaks. So Bob takes the blame. He lives up to promise #1. He surrenders himself with literal blood on his hands (Freddyís) and goes to prison for Ruth. There, he writes letters to her even as he tries to break out of prison. The sixth timeís the charm. By this point, four-plus years, and maybe 15 minutes of screentime, have gone by. The rest of the movie is prep for his return.
No show to run
Slowly, people take positions, or take up positions around Ruth. Is Patrick using Ruth to get to Bob, or Bob to get to Ruth? In the end, he gets got himself. He falls for her and her daughter. He falls for the woman who shot him.
Ruth keeps watching the door, scared and hopeful Bob will walk in; Patrick keeps hanging around Ruth, hoping Bob will walk in; but itís Skerritt who gets the walk-in. Bob shows up in the back of Skerrittís store, an amused, proud look on his face. Lookee what I did. Is he a little soft in the head? He seems to be missing something up there. Maybe love is laid over it. We sing songs about it but itís a burden.
Skerritt warns Bob away. The house that Bob didnít get Ruth? Promise #2? Skerritt got it for her. He lets her live in one of his houses, next door to his own, and he doesnít want Bob hanging around. Bobís got his dream, of courseóto disappear with the girls and settle down and buy a house and open a shop and grow old like Skerrittóand Skerrittís fine with it except for the getting the girls part. ďYou got trouble heading your way,Ē he reminds him. Then he holds Bobís face down on the wood countertop. Heís tougher than Bob. Maybe thatís why Bob wants to be him. Maybe thatís why we all do. Itís a great scene.
Bad men come looking for him. Big silent men led by a talkative runt named Bear (Charles Baker, Skinny Pete from ďBreaking BadĒ). Are they bounty hunters? Are they after reward money? Skerritt warns them, too, but eventually he sets the rest of the movie in motion by sending them to where they might find him. They just better not get the girls involved. Famous last words.
Thereís an ennui, a dissipation, in the town and in the film. At one point we get this dialogue:
Bob: Whoís running the show?
Skerritt: No show to run. Not anymore.
Thatís how it feels. Not much on the shelves here. At Maudeís Bar, where Bob holes up, which his friend, Sweetie (Nate Parker), runs, or owns, thereís even less. Itís barren and thereís rot in the floorboards.
No legendary outlaw
One night, his daughterís 4th birthday, Bob shows up, sees his daughter through the front window, sees a man with her. Itís Patrick. Does he know itís Patrick? He leaves anyway. He returns, I believe, to the shack where he and Ruth used to live, where the shoot-out took place, where he buried the money. This time Bear and the men are waiting. Bob gets two, one gets him. He stands over him, disbelieving. ďYou shot me,Ē Bob says to Bear. ďWhyíd you shoot me? I never even seen you.Ē
He is missing something, isnít he? He doesnít know the way the world works. Heís got a romantic streak in him when it comes to Ruth and himself. He thinks heís a legendary outlaw now but there are no legendary outlaws now. Itís like what Skerritt said about the show: no oneís running it. Bloodied again, Bob flags down a driver, Will (Rami Malek), and on the way to Ruthís they have this conversation:
Bob: Tell your daddy who you gave a ride to today.
Will (after a pause): Who?
Bob (confused): What?
Will (choosing words carefully): Who are you?
I love that. This, too. When Bobís in prison, he writes this in a letter to Ruth. Itís about how he keeps himself going:
Every day I wake up is the day I think Iím going to see you. And one of these days, it will be so.
It is. Itís also the day he dies.
ďAinít Them Bodies SaintsĒ is well acted, beautifully shot, with some good, minimalist dialogue. I liked scenes. I admired the effort. Casey Affleck continues to impress and it made me retroactively miss Keith Carradine, who seems to have made a deal with the devil when it comes to aging. Heís looked about the same for 30 years.
But overall? It doesnít resonate and I donít know why. Too much atmosphere? Dissipation? Because itís a copy of a copy? Itís another story of the outlaw couple, kind of, told in the manner of Terrence Malick, kind of, about a few scattered people at the end of it.
It misses the big conflict, which is dramatized in the scene between Bob and Skerritt: For the good of what you love, you should stay away from what you love. But Bobís too thick to realize it. Itís the scorpion and the frog, and itís in Bobís nature to catch up to Ruth. Thatís what he does, thatís what heíll always do, but itís not that interesting. In the end, Bob and Ruth are not that interesting. People in love rarely are.