Crazy in love, Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) cuddle in a sun-dappled meadow. When Ruth tells Bob she’s pregnant, he commits a robbery that leads to a shootout in a rural farmhouse, lit as fetchingly as the meadow. Ruth wounds a deputy (Ben Foster). You tell’em I did it, Bob suggests. He goes to prison for twenty-five years. Ruth has her child. It’s the seventies. Mustaches grow longer, the musical score gets insistent. Bob escapes. The deputy shows a romantic interest in Ruth.
Causality is not a film’s strength when Terence Malick is an influence. Writer-director David Lowery’s early scenes often show a character at work or play before cutting to another, creating a suspense (i.e. what is he building?) that the movie squelches. Meanwhile the score — synths and pizzicato strings — is as loud as a SCUD raid. I know a man directed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints because there’s a scene in which Mara watches Foster getting along so well with her kid; I’ve seen it in a dozen feature and TV movies. Couldn’t Foster be a great lover and lousy with children? Or the opposite? At least that one time I could distinguish the actors from the ambience. For Lowery dimly lit rooms and characters shrouded in darkness at tables signify importance. Even a scene in broad daylight in which a wounded Affleck compels a frightened kid to give him a ride is shot as if the kid were in witness protection. Ponderous, portentous, and uncertain, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is purest Sundance fare. Affleck’s pain-crinkled voice doesn’t carry over a mic. Mara occasionally gets to show shades of regret on her open face. With Keith Carradine as Bob’s protector and surrogate father; he gives the movie a shot of energy every time he appears.