(TODAY'S GUEST: Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, rejoins us here to share his enthusiastic rave for David Lowrey's Ain't Them Bodies Saints. We're always happy to welcome Rohan to Jaman HQ, and hope you will follow him on Twitter.)
“I shot someone. I think I shot someone.”
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints 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 of the masters Terrence Malick and Robert Altman. But Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a rip-off or homage to their films, and can stand as a near masterpiece in its own right. It undoubtedly owes a lot to the films which were made in the era in which it 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 voice over is used throughout (usually the reading of letters or replaying the dialogue of previous scenes rather than omnipresent narration). Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara’s voices are so full of sadness and longing, carrying more emotion than one could think possible, and the images on screen, even of something so simple as dust in the air or grain on a screen, 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. So good is the soundtrack that I purchased 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 JesseJames By The Coward Robert Ford and must go down as one of the best feature film debuts released in my lifetime.
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.