Note to those scared off by the poetic title (it’s from a country song) and the fear that this Texas love triangle might be something out of the Terrence Malick school of lyrical reveries that sacrifice action for feelings: You’re right.
That said, the bruising beauty of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints gets under your skin. Writer-director David Lowery (St. Nick) sets his folk tale against the Texas Hill Country of the 1970s. Young outlaws Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) get caught when Ruth wounds officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) and Bob takes the blame. Skip ahead four years: Ruth is mother of Sylvie, baby daddy Bob has escaped from jail, and Ruth finds herself falling for Patrick, the cop she shot.
Familiar stuff, for sure. But Lowery, gifted cinematographer Bradford Young and the three lead actors lift the material to a higher plane. Mara and Affleck are vibrantly alive from the opening scene, in which Ruth and Bob revel in their romantic fantasies. And Foster is brilliant at showing Patrick’s agony at verbalizing his love for Ruth, a conflicted woman riding an emotional tidal wave. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints offers no glib answers or smooth resolution, but there’s no question that Lowery is a filmmaker with a striking future.