Patrick is the kind of role that we’ve seen all too often in these types of films. He comes to Ruth’s home unannounced, just checking in. He moves softly, and let’s his slow-brewing love for Ruth be known with a gentle voice and kind gestures. It’s the whole officer-getting-too-close-and-woman-falling-for-him bit, only handled with far more maturity and restraint than we’ve come to expect.
Perhaps more accomplished than Lowery’s ability to confidently retell an old tale is the way he tells it on the surface. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has drawn many comparisons to the aesthetic work of Terrence Malick, which is most certainly fair. With the help of Bradford Young’s dark, gliding, patient cinematography and Daniel Hart’s understated score, Lowery has crafted a film of melancholic moments. Plot, easily defined though it may be, is not what motivates this film. It’s in the looks, the sparse lines of dialogue, the way the sun silhouettes a woman longing for the love she’s lost.
Since her brief turn in The Social Network, Rooney Mara has quietly asserted herself as a powerhouse of American cinema. Her work as Ruth only enhances that notion. This is her most restrained performance to date, and it proves that she’s an actress who can do as much with a little as she can with a lot. Likewise for Affleck, who we long ago knew was capable of letting his face do the talking. Bob is the best work he’s delivered since his one-two punch performances in The Assassination of Jesse James and Gone Baby Gone. The film rests on their shoulders, and they carry it steadily to the end.
Lowery has said in a number of interviews that he is a man less concerned with the final outcome, and more focused on how that outcome is framed. That’s a perfect way to describe Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. The movie clocks in at 96 minutes, but feels much longer, due to its purposefully slow pace, and neglect of catharsis. As I watched the film, I became inherently aware that it will struggle to find an audience outside of die hard festival attendees and art house movie buffs. Which is perfectly fine. In fact, that’s my way of saying that this film is different, thankfully so. B+