Titled for a song lyric that was misheard by its writer-director, David Lowery, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" has the air of cultivated doom that has infected all those lovers-on-the-run, paramours-with-pistols road movies that constitute a largish chunk of our native, nativist cinema. The ancestors include, in no particular order or criteria, "Bonnie and Clyde," "Badlands," "Sugarland Express" and even "Smokey and the Bandit," from which Lowery has amalgamated all the tropes, lovers' conflicts, our national perversity toward lawbreakers on the run and the mythologizing that naturally follows in the land of Dillinger and Billy the Kid. The "Saints" story isn't about revelation, but reimagining.
Toward that end, he gives us a hero, the wonderfully named Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck), who takes the rap for the wounding of a lawman during a holdup by his wife, Ruth (Rooney Mara). As years go by the supporting characters establish themselves: Ruth, who keeps her marriage alive through love and guilt; Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), the wounded lawman, who takes a shine to Mrs. Muldoon; and Skerritt (Keith Carradine), an older sort-of ne'er-do-well who keeps an eye on the about-to-bud Ruth-Patrick romance.
When Bob busts out of the joint, pursued by the law and his three ex-cronies (think "High Noon"), the amalgamated conceits of outlaw cinema approach critical mass, and predictable pyrotechnics.
But Lowery's intention is atmosphere, not necessarily a revolution. That he creates tension and suspense in a milieu we know so well indicates great things for the future, and a solid movie right now.
PLOT Desperado tries to reunite with the wife and baby he left behind, in an outlaw Texas preserved in amber light. Unrated.
CAST Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine
BOTTOM LINE A repository of fugitive Americana that's substantial and satisfying