In terms of recent big movie news, nothing has come close to eclipsing the announcement of Ben Affleck as the new Batman. Although it’s a perfectly good and logical choice, the storm of outrage that followed was quite frankly ridiculous. Considering that Ben Affleck isn’t too popular amongst internet circles, it would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been if Casey Affleck would have been unveiled as The new Dark Knight. Sure, he wouldn’t have fit the bill whatsoever but his appreciation amongst film buffs is significantly greater. Casey is an actor who has usually stuck to more subtle, understated, sometimes sinister roles in mainly independent films. In many ways he is the complete opposite to his brother who has done well to stick to mainstream productions, picking up a couple of Oscars along the way. Perhaps Casey though should be thought of in the same bracket as Ben, because Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, like many of his other films, proves that he is a very special actor.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints starts with a fast paced retrospective of the film’s central couple’s relationship. In it we see how Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) came to be together in 1970’s Texas and their path to the wrong side of the law. During the flashback Ruth and Bob are caught up in a shootout with the police, which results in Ruth shooting a police officer played by Ben Foster. Bob then nobly takes the blame for the crime and is sentenced to jail. This whole section is done quite rapidly, making you think that the remainder of the film will be largely be of how they came to this point. Thankfully it doesn’t go down that clichéd route and tries to do something interesting with these characters.
After the consequences of the shootout, Ruth gives birth to Bob’s daughter Sylvie. Desperate to reunite with Ruth and the daughter he has never met, Bob breaks out of jail and takes for the hills of Texas. Knowing that he is a wanted man, he chooses not to go straight to Ruth, in fear of putting her in immediate danger. Instead, he seeks refuge in his old friends bar and pays visits to his old boss, Skerritt (Keith Carradine). This is where the film really begins, as it becomes more of a tale about estranged lovers than one of cops and robbers.
Affleck gives a towering performance. As the quiet but slightly twisted Bob, Affleck manages to display all the angst and the emotional torment that a character like this would go through. Perhaps even more impressive is Rooney Mara who plays her role with real grace and heart, especially in the scenes where she is interacting with her daughter. It’s an exceptional performance from an actress who deserves more credit. Ben Foster, Nate Parker and Keith Carradine also give great turns throughout the film making it probably one of the best cast performances you’ll see all year.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints isn’t quite perfect however. The plot is slightly undercooked and certain revelations seem to go without any real consequence. Those are minor issues though as it is a thoroughly satisfying film. This is director David Lowery’s first major feature film and it already shows the potential for future greatness. Fans of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970’s will find a lot to like here. This is an elegant and composed, unconventional love story that could be a dark horse come awards season.