As phony-baloney as the strained title, David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a pastiche of films from the 1970s that were themselves artistic filterings of bygone Americana. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play "outlaws" in a version of Texas that we know mostly from Terrence Malick films—natural light, lonesome roads, prettily photographed poverty, populated by incongruously good-looking actors wearing rustic costumes and deeply empty expressions.
In the film's first scene, we meet Affleck's Bob and Mara's Ruth in a shootout with the law. Ruth wounds an officer, but Bob takes the blame and the prison sentence. Ruth gives birth to their child. Bob escapes from prison, determined to be reunited with his "outlaw" bride and child. On his heels is Ben Foster, a nice-guy deputy who sports a Brooklyn-ready mustache.
Bob and Ruth look as much like "outlaws" as Ernie and Bert, and certainly they're no match for Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Malick's Badlands, one of this film's obvious inspirations. Ain't Them Bodies Saints is set in no recognizable world. The cars say we're in the 1970s, while Keith Carradine is the corrupt boss of a town called Meridian, where black-hatted gunslingers walk the streets. Banjo strings are plucked, mustaches are twirled and Ruth and Bob, full of fake Texas twang and dopey sincerity, play the kind of honest "outlaw" that has never existed outside of Bob Dylan songs and movies like this one.
It's a shame, because Lowery obviously has serious artistic intent—but with so much in the world to make movies about, he chose to make a trifle, an earnest valentine to a shopworn aesthetic.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Young and restless."