‘Saints’ swell, but doesn’t seem to fully come to life

There are many things to admire about “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” from its controlled mood to its fine cast to its folkie-fiddle musical score. A great deal of care, and a lot of affection for movie history, went into this low-key Sundance success.

So why am I unconvinced? Maybe everything’s just a little too right, a little too calculated, in writer-director David Lowery’s neo-western-noir. This movie always knows exactly what it’s doing, and that gets a little suffocating.

The ingenious opening reels introduce us to a desperate couple, Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck).

Their criminal history is mostly left offscreen, but we witness a showdown with Texas cops that results in Bob taking the blame for a shot fired by the pregnant Ruth. Bob is hustled off to the pokey and four years pass, but the bullet remains lodged in the storyline: Small-town policeman Patrick (Ben Foster), the very officer wounded by Ruth’s gun, is now hanging around her and the baby.

Patrick is a nice man, clearly lovestruck, and he’s probably better for her than callow Bob — but such niceties hardly matter in a doomy scenario like this. Bob has escaped from jail, and we know where his path leads.

Lowery misses few pictorial possibilities with the Texas locations and the movie has an old-time feel despite being set in the 1970s. Yet the location and the period should have quotation marks, because “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” takes place exclusively in a movie universe, aspiring to the tradition of Nicholas Ray’s “They Live by Night” and Terence Malick’s “Badlands.”

And speaking of Malick: As pretty as Bradford Young’s cinematography is here, we might need to call a moratorium on closeups of waving wheat backlighted by “Magic Hour” sunset, because these imitations of the “Tree of Life” director are getting out of hand.

The people onscreen matter, however. Mara, the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, continues to be a novel presence, and she and Affleck are masters of the art of hushed, uninflected vocal delivery.

Affleck doesn’t do anything new here, but Ben Foster does: This incorrigible over-actor (see “Alpha Dog” or “3:10 to Yuma”) has tamped things down to give a gentle performance of great feeling. All of which is admirable — there’s that word again — and consistently interesting to watch. But maybe the film needs less saintliness, and more sinning.

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (two and a half stars)

David Lowery’s Sundance success is a low-key tale of criminal lovers (Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck) separated by his prison sentence — but maybe not for long. The movie’s heavy on small-town Texas atmosphere, and Mara and Ben Foster give fine performances, but despite the admirable amount of care, the movie doesn’t entirely come to life.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for violence.

Showing: Guild 45th.

More in Life

Hear new songs from Josh Clauson at Saturday release party

The producer of the Summer Meltdown music festival and Flowmotion band leader has a solo album out.

Get schooled on Texas BBQ at this Monroe restaurant in a bus

Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, chicken and the fixin’s all await you near the Reptile Zoo on U.S. 2.

Spy comedy ’Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ is laugh-out-loud funny

It’s a superficial but energetic sequel to the 2014 film about a clandestine British secret service.

39th annual Arts of the Terrace attracts regional artists

The Mountlake Terrace juried show features paintings, drawings, photography, miniatures and more.

Ben Stiller was born to play title character in ‘Brad’s Status’

Writer-director Mike White’s script has plenty of Brad’s voiceover, so this movie feels like a novel.

See both versions of ‘The Old Couple’ on Historic Everett stage

The Outcast Players perform Neil Simon’s classic comedy with alternating male and female casts.

The ‘Whimsical Woman’ shares what she learns on the trail

Jennifer Mabus came here from Nevada and Hawaii. She leads hikes and blogs about them.

‘Friend Request’ a horror flick about the dangers of Facebook

Though it’s a little behind the times, Simon Verhoeven’s film about social media is effectively done.

Branch out: ‘Tasting Cider’ recipes call for hard apple cider

Top cider makers share how they like to make hush puppies, bread pudding and the pear-fect cocktail.

Most Read