Rooney Mara (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) and Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma), star in Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a languorous festival circuit film about a Texas outlaw (Affleck) who escapes from prison and scampers headlong over hill and dale to return to his wife (Mara) and wee babe. In the meantime, a soft-spoken sheriff from their past (Foster) gently intrudes on the domestic sphere with minimal success.
Lovely stuff here, to be sure. The camerawork generally and doting, almost religious, landscape shots specifically might have sprung from the oeuvre of Terrence Malick. But young writer-director David Lowery, a son of Texas himself, lacks (or hasn’t yet acquired) Malick’s transcendental punch. Despite some really powerful, understated performances by all three of its stars — the mustachioed Foster in particular — the whole just doesn’t manage to equal the sum of its parts.
Here’s an apt distillation from the A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd, who also noted the Malick lineage:
“[Malick’s films] have big ideas, bigger emotions, and a sense of dramatic urgency — all qualities fatally absent from this well-shot but bloodless crime fable. Lowery, it can’t be denied, has Malick’s moves down pat. It’s the Malick touch that eludes him.”
Casual viewers might tire of the thin plot and solemn scenic takes. Malick fans might grow weary of searching for a thesis. Though the lensing and the tone of the film cohere admirably — it looks really good — at its conclusion, you’re left with what amounts to an emotional shrug.
In what could have been a sensational on-the-run thriller, there’s no real action. In what is certainly a tragic story of love and loss, there’s no real drama. The film opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre and the Capitol Theatre.
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