Ain't Them Bodies Saints (US - DVD R1)
Jonathan checks out David Lowery's sophomore film starring Casey Affleck..
Four years ago, impassioned young outlaws couple Bob Muldoon (Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Mara) were apprehended in the Texas hills during a shootout that left a local officer wounded by a bullet from Ruth's gun. Taking the blame, Bob was sentenced to 25 years in prison. After having engineered a daring escape, Bob is now determined to reconnect with the love of his life and meet the daughter who was born while he was incarcerated. But that journey back won't be easy, and the powers that be threaten to keep the two lovers apart forever. (From the IFC Films synopsis)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints is director David Lowery's second feature film, following his very low budget St. Nick, which played at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival here in Austin. I haven't seen it, but thanks to the bonus disc in this DVD set I will get the opportunity to do so. With this new film he had the opportunity to work with a $4 million dollar budget and a wonderful cast. Casey Affleck is perfectly cast as Bob Muldoon. Affleck is no stranger to this territory. He effortlessly portrayed a sensitive, but disturbed Robert Ford in Andrew Dominik's Jesse James biopic, and he is very much in that mode for Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Bob often speaks as if there is a higher purpose to his life
The film has been called a Bonnie and Clyde type story, but really the outlaw couple thing ends before it begins. In the first few minutes we see the shootout detailed in the film's synopsis, and Bob and Ruth are separated. What the bulk of the movie focuses on is how they have matured and dealt with the distance, and their longing to reconnect. Ben Foster puts in my favorite performance of the movie as Patrick Wheeler, the cop who was shot by Ruth on that faithful day. In Bob's absence, Patrick has become friends with Ruth and even seems to show some feelings for her.
The movie has some supporting roles, most notably Keith Carradine and Charles Baker (that's Skinny Pete from Breaking Bad). None of these support roles are strong characterizations. They all pretty much exist to spin the wheels of the main plot, and don't add anything particularly memorable to the end result. Intelligently, the movie never stumbles into a predictable love triangle. Patrick could have easily become a villain, but he's just another sensitive man caught up in this doomed situation. Lowery has a strong sense of style, which compares favourably to Terrence Malick at times. Lowery makes much more of an effort to have characters and a narrative than Malick does, but his portrayal of the Texas setting and the way Bradford Young's flowing cinematography pairs with lovely, contemplative instrumentals feels appropriately inspired by Malick, and not like a cheap imitation.
The transfer on this DVD of Ain't Them Bodies Saints feels rushed and slapped together. Right off the bat there are a lot of aliasing, jagged edges. It looks as though the source was not mastered to fit this resolution and then was scaled down to it improperly. Detail suffers as a result. Colors are strong, and Bradford Young's amber compositions look nice. This is my first time viewing the film, so I can't say if this was a stylistic choice or if it is a fault of the transfer: it is really dark. There is a shoot out scene that takes place at night and it is totally incomprehensible on this DVD. For a good while its impossible to make out anything, then the scene finds some natural moonlighting near a creek and it becomes slightly easier to tell what is going on. It looks brighter (and greener) on the Youtube trailer for the movie. The rest of the movie looks dark too. Some interior scenes during night time are also especially dark, and black levels feel crushing. Aside from the jagged edges, compression artefacts aren't much of an issue.
The real highlight of this Dolby Digital 5.1 track is Daniel Hart's score. It sneaks up on a few scenes and ratchets up the tension nicely with soaring string compositions and clapping. During scenes where Bob narrates his letters to Ruth, or scenes of Ruth interacting with their child, the soundtrack is flooded with beautiful instrumentals. It compliments the rustic setting and spiritual tone of the movie very well. This track is quieter than most Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks I've come across. I found myself having to turn the volume up a great deal more than I usually do for this format. Once you make the adjustment though, the movie sounds just fine. Voices are easy to make out, but characters are very soft-spoken so I had subtitles on just to make sure I caught every thing.
Extras kick off with Untitled Ross Brothers Documentary (13:21), which is a different kind of behind the scenes. It has no narration and takes a fly on the wall approach, letting us view what is what like to be on set or in the makeup room. It's a cool and unusual little feature that I dug. There are three Deleted Scenes (01:19, 01:01, and 06:38). Two of them revolve on Ben Foster's character, and the third is actually a compilation of many raw cuts/snippets from dailies that did not make it into the final cut. There is some lovely footage here and . Any one that loves the vibe of the movie will want to check it out.
Next up is The Lights (03:36), which is music video for a song Keith Carradine performs. It's a charming addition. Behind the Scenes (04:50) is a much more traditional EPK making-of, with cast and crew interviews. Then there is a Theatrical Trailer (02:30) and a couple of short Character Teasers (00:54, 00:51) for Bob and Ruth. Last of all, this DVD release comes with an additional disc that contains St. Nick (01:24:46), the first full-length feature film from director David Lowery. An extra full-length film is always a nice surprise, and it's a cool way to see Lowery's background and what he does with an even smaller budget.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a modest, well-crafted yarn held together by strong performances from the principle cast. It makes me excited to see what David Lowery has to offer next. This DVD release from IFC has some problems in the video department, but it sounds just fine if you crank the volume up. There is a nice collection of extras to enjoy, including a separate disc with Lowery's first feature film, St. Nick, on it.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th December 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Untitled Ross Brothers Documentary, Deleted Scenes, The Lights Music Video, Behind the Scenes, Trailers, Bonus Disc with David Lowery's feature-length debut St.Nick
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
Genre: Crime, Drama and Romance
Length: 96 minutes
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