Taking a break from over-budgeted blockbusters, a Bonnie And Clyde-style Casey Affleck indie flick sounded like a safe bet. Especially after the likes of The Assassination Of Jesse James and The Killer Inside Me, with Affleck proving himself to be one of the most interesting and promising actors working today.
Taking a somewhat more romantic approach, Ain't Them Bodies Saints starts off feeling a lot like a Terrence Malik film, Badlands meets Tree Of Life, something like that. Then we go into the more straight-forward story of woman (Rooney Mara) waiting for her locked-up dude (Affleck) to come back to her. The situation is made slightly more complicated as Bob (Affleck) is only in jail to cover for Ruth (Mara) shooting a cop back when they were both outlaws, a cop who now seems to be interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with Ruth. Yes, it's basically a love triangle movie but unlike, say, Twilight, this is held together very well through terrific performances and competent cinematography. Unfortunately this means that a lot rests on the payoff. This is a type of movie we've seen time and time again, and in order for it to make sense as an original piece of work, it would need an ending worthy of its solid, genuinely involving build-up. But Ain't Them Bodies Saints suffers from a predictable, unconvincing and ultimately forgettable third act which sadly fails to give the film a valid reason for being. Other films have attempted similar endings, I'm thinking of the Jennifer Aniston-starring black comedy The Good Girl, but the latter's conclusion, despite also being a bit of a downer, really felt appropriate to the overall tone the film was going for and its characters were so well defined that their actions just made sense. Even if you disagreed with them.
Here, the film goes for a soap-opera style denouement in which one character unwittingly sacrifices themselves thereby making the life of another character much easier. A subplot involving bandits is also thrown in about halfway through the movie and its importance at the end of the film really feels tacked-on. Characters we're meant to feel for and like come off as dishonest and a bit sleazy, characters we're meant to dismiss as selfish come off as way more likeable than the others and we're meant to "get" why this ever-so-slightly forced chain of events came to this particular conclusion but it just doesn't feel genuine. The film needed a unique, different ending, something surprising enough to elevate the film from just another, less good Winter's Bone, to a clever, deeper movie with a very particular, not necessarily obvious message. Like I said, though, both Affleck and Mara do a terrific job in their roles, as does the rest of the cast, and the movie is beautiful to look at. It really feels like you're watching a novel, but it's a novel you've probably already read.
Overall, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a technically well made flick with really strong performances all around but which lacks a certain originality when it comes to what it's trying to say and what it wants us to make of its characters.
Pretty but sadly entirely forgettable.