Saturday, 7 September 2013

Film Review: Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)

Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Stars: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster

“I shot someone. I think I shot someone”

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints evokes a film making style now all but lost and takes us back to a time when cinema could be beautiful, daring, and haunting all at once, without the goal to spawn sequels and franchises. That time was the rise of New Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s and will forever be, to me, the most influential and important era in American cinema.

First time director David Lowrey has clearly taken inspiration from the framing, lens choice, and lighting from the masters Terrance Malick and Robert Altman but Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a rip-off or homage to their films, and can stand on its own as a near masterpiece in its own right. It undoubtedly owes a lot to the films which were made in the era this is set (the early 1970s) but the fact that this film looks, sounds, and feels the way it does cannot be luck or just pure imitation.

From the opening scene, Lowrey sets the tone for his picture and never deviates; like Malick’s work, we hear parts of conversations, dialogue hangs over scenes, and the use of voice over is used throughout although the narration is never omnipresent but often the reading of letters or replaying the dialogue of previous scenes. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara’s voices are so full of sadness and longing, they carry more emotion than one could think possible, and the images which are on screen, whether it be dust in the air, grain on the screen, or the muted colour pallet are never less than authentic. Each frame is more than just a scene in a motion picture; it is a thing of beauty.

The score, mostly strings instruments and folky hand clapping, is perfect and only serves to heighten the emotion rather than add some missing gravitas which the director wasn’t able to convey, as is so often the case with the copycat booming scores we are so used to today. So good is the soundtrack that I purchase it straight after seeing the film and am listening to it as I write this review. It is music and visuals working in perfect harmony.

Story telling in this film is one which requires the audience to have patience and not expect everything to come together in a neat package. We are given the plot and story through voiceover and delicate dialogue, never spoon-fed and there isn’t Mr Plot Exposition at hand for those with short attention spans. This is film making of the highest calibre and the likes of which I haven’t from a debutant second feature director since The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and must go down as one of the best feature film debuts released in my lifetime.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints cannot be praised highly enough. Whether or not you appreciate the 1970s style of film making, it is essential viewing, the likes of which so rarely cross our paths anymore.

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