Movie review: “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” paints gorgeous love story

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From the September 5, 2013 edition

Director David Lowery’s gorgeous and buzzed-about “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is finally arriving in Columbus, and it is worth the fuss.

It’s a filmmaker’s movie, light on plot, heavy on atmosphere. Knowing that in advance will help “Saints” find the audience that would most enjoy its charms.

This Texas tale of crime, punishment and love introduces us to its lovers in a sweet, simple prologue. Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) pursues a perturbed Ruth GuthrieRooney Mara) as she storms off after an unseen argument. In a simple turn as he sweetly makes up, we get a quick and efficient feel for a reckless young love.

We soon learn how reckless, as the couple and a friend rob a business. After a shootout with police, Bob is sent to prison, separated from both Ruth and their unborn child.

Bob writes Ruth unfailingly from prison, speaking in sweet and longing words for the day they will reunite. It’s a day he’s unwilling to put in the hands of the state. Bob escapes from prison and begins a long, occasionally violent quest to reunite with Ruth.

Lowery’s lush and gorgeous tone poem garners obvious comparisons to Terrnce Malick, although it’s more subconscious homage than derivative. Even if it were, not many directors can pull off ripping off Malick.

It’s also a fair touchstone for the audience that will find “Saints” enthralling, because an equal number may find it obtuse to the point of being almost unwatchable.

Regardless of how you feel about Lowery’s plot, the lead performances are outstanding. Mara’s first major turn since starring in the American remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” shows astonishing range. (She, coincidentally, will be appearing Malick’s next film.)

Affleck embodies Bob’s dedication with a sweet drawl. The younger Affleck hasn’t felt the internet backlash his big brother did, but it’s a worthy reminder of the talent in the family.

With this film, Lowery establishes himself as filmmaker I’ll be watching. I hope you do, too.