The Patience of a Saint, by David Bax
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints starts off with a deficit because it’s called Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. I mean, how is that going to affect word of mouth? Are you really going to recommend your friends go see a movie called Ain’t Them Bodies Saints? In order to get away with a name like that, it would have to be exceptional. David Lowery’s film is in many ways decent, competent, occasionally even above average. But it’s not quite that good.
Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) are a couple. They are criminals of an unspecified sort and, as the film opens, we find out that they are going to be parents. Two scenes later, though, a particular crime (again unspecified) has gone wrong and they are involved in a shoot-out with the police. Their cohort, Freddy (Kentucker Audley) is killed and Ruth shoots and wounds a police officer. Before being caught, Bob decides to take the fall for everything and do the time while Ruth raises their child. Four years later, Ruth and daughter Sylvie are living in a house owned by Freddy’s father, Skerritt (Keith Carradine), and Ruth has befriended the wounded officer, Patrick (Ben Foster), when the news breaks that Bob has escaped from prison and he is coming back for them.
Frankly, it’s a pretty fantastic set-up for a movie. It has all the “kiss kiss, bang bang” promise a movie needs, as well as a heavy dollop of tough and sweaty Texas atmosphere. Furthermore, all of those requirements are duly fulfilled by Lowery (who, I’m mostly certain, is not the guy from mid-90s alt-rock outfit Cracker). It’s just that he does nothing above coloring inside the lines. There’s little sense of personality or vision and even less of joy.
Lowery’s cast does their best to help him out, particularly Carradine, who is incapable of being bad in anything, and Foster, who has been one of America’s most consistently underrated character actors for more than a decade now.
Still, it’s hard to get past the feeling that no one on either side of the camera, in character or out, is enjoying her- or himself. Everything is relentlessly grim and dour without earning the weight to make that mean something. It’s not until a flashback near the very end of the film that we get a look at Ruth and Bob enjoying each other’s company. It’s sweet and touching and it made me think, “I’d watch a movie about those two people.”