What You Should Know About The Latest Casey Affleck & Rooney Mara Film ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’
Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands, True Romance – Hollywood’s fascination with “lovers on the run” runs deep. But in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, writer-director David Lowery redefines the genre and paints a far less glamorous, more realistic portrait of outlaws in love.
Oscar-nominated Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) headline Lowery’s beautifully shot third feature as doomed rebel darlings Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie. We meet the feverishly enamored Bob and Ruth, high off the thrill of their most recent caper, as they dodge police gunfire inside an abandoned shack. But that’s as much of their backstory as we’re privy to. Lowery wavered over how much of their criminal history he should show and opted to begin Bob and Ruth’s saga after their crime spree ends. According to Lowery, “You would have seen a series of bank robberies that all looked the same. I wanted this movie to pick up where other movies like this left off. The aftermath.”
Pregnant with Bob’s child, Ruth wounds a cop during the shootout, and Bob willingly shoulders the charges and a 25-to-life sentence. Over the next four years, Bob breaks out of prison, risking all to find his estranged love and the daughter he’s never met. For Affleck, playing the loving and sympathetic Bob Muldoon was a refreshing departure from more sinister roles he’s played in the past (like Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me). “He just has a good heart,” says Affleck of Muldoon. “He has good intentions. I’ve played a lot of people who are assassins or murderers or creeps this way or that and that always feels disgusting. It was great to play someone who has everyone’s best interest in mind and was a much better person than anyone ever thought.”
Lowery doubted he’d be able to woo Mara, who’d just premiered The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo when he approached her about playing Ruth. According to Mara, it was his short film (Pioneer) and the complexity of the Saints characters that won her over. “I loved the whole world, where it took place and the time period in which it took place,” gushes Mara. “I really loved Bob and Ruth’s love story, especially the stuff that you don’t see in the film. The script was very poetic. When I met David and saw his short film, I had this feeling that he was going to make something special and I wanted to be apart of it.” Again displaying her knack for chameleon-like immersion into each character she plays, the classic beauty went without makeup and dawned tattered sundresses to play the homely Ruth. Elaborating on her character, Mara explains, “She’s had to grow up fast. She’s caught in between two love stories – the love story with Bob and the love story with her daughter. She has to chose one, which is a very difficult choice.”
Patrick Wheeler, played by Ben Foster, rounds out Saints‘ ill-fated love triangle as the honorable lawman who Ruth shot. While Bob’s away, Wheeler looks after Ruth and her child; and the two eventually form a deep bond. Lowery says he hoped Patrick would ground the film emotionally and that “he really was the moral center of the movie.” Lowery explains, “The archetype of a sheriff in this type of movie is someone who is ultimately going to catch the outlaw or get in a showdown with the outlaw. I wanted him to represent the idea that doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily mean following the rules. He has that gut-instinct level of righteousness.” While Patrick’s pursuit of Bob is the story’s main conflict, Ruth’s father figure Skerritt (Keith Carradine) also sullies Bob’s return home, as he fights to protect Ruth from her sordid past.
Both Mara and Affleck praised Lowery’s spontaneous directing style and flexibility on set. That flexibility comes in handy when you’re attempting to shoot a feature in one month. “Working with David is fantastic because he’s not precious about anything,” Mara reveals. “He would drop pretty much anything if you had given a good enough argument for it. And he would have come up with something new on the spot.” It’s true — he intentionally left several scenes unfinished until it was time to shoot. In fact, Lowery says one of the film’s most memorable monologues, in which Bob Muldoon talks to himself in a mirror, was improvised. “I wrote four different monologues and gave them to [Affleck] and said just take them and run with them. We just kept rolling and he would do variations and work them all together. I knew that scene would be an amazing scene but I didn’t want to have to write it from the get go. I felt that whatever we would come up with together in the process of our collaboration would be better than anything I could write initially.”
Rife with static shots of windswept grains and magic hour lens flares, Saints is visually reminiscent of Terrence Malick. But Lowery’s lyrical writing and Daniel Hart’s impressive score, enlivened by mandolins, banjos and hand claps, puts Saints in a category all its own, repackaging the Western love story for a new generation.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints will be released to theaters this Friday, August 16th.
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