Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) has just had a row with his girlfriend Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and as she stomps off through the fields home to her parents he catches up and persuades her he has nothing but her best interests at heart. Which is just as well when she admits to him she is pregnant, only that might not make it the best time to get involved in a bank robbery. Soon they are holed up in a shootout with the cops as their partner in crime is shot dead and Ruth manages to send a bullet into the shoulder of one of the lawmen, though recognising all hope is lost Bob agrees to take the blame and is arrested, then sentenced to jail for a very long time...
This means he doesn't get to see his daughter, as apparently the prison won't allow anyone to visit him for some odd reason, but Ruth is free to do as she pleases and sets about bringing up the girl (played by twins) on her own. The first reference you might well make in regard to Ain't Them Bodies Saints is one of the giants of American cinema, or so his fans will tell you, Terrence Malick since it was evident in every frame that director David Lowery had made an exacting study of what made his work tick and had imitated him slavishly in the hope that some of that movie magic would rub off on him. Alas, although this may bear resemblance to Malick's visuals, it played more like Badlands if the central couple had been split up early on.
Though don't go thinking any plain spoken and naively poetic dialogue was going to be absent as there was plenty to go around, except where Badlands had come across as the product of sharp thinking on the part of the screenwriter, here it simply felt affected, even leaden coming from the mouths of actors affecting Deep South accents for an authenticity beyond Lowery's grasp. Not for want of trying, as the effort to portray a tragic tale to have the audience swooning at the lyricism of it all was very much apparent for everyone to see, it was just that not everyone was going to be willing to accompany this lot on their journey to a very predictable conclusion. When was the last time you saw a couple on the run movie have a happy ending?
Fair enough, there were a few, but in spite of being a one half of a couple on the run movie when Bob escapes from prison the second nice cop Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) shows up on the scene, filling in the role of the nice paternal figure for the little girl even if Ruth is not quite ready to accept him, Bob might as well have given himself up and avoided his eventual fate. As it is, he spends the rest of the plot hiding out and trying to evade both the law and a band of ex-cohorts who are dead set on hunting him down for some slight he has inflicted on them or their boss - it's never entirely clear, all we need to know is that plenty of folks are out to get him. But being of very little brain, Bob is determined to reunite with the family he has not seen in years, and finally clap eyes on his daughter.
The other main character was local hardware store owner Skerritt, played not by Tom Skerritt but by an actor of the same vintage, Keith Carradine, who is paternal towards Ruth and tells Bob in no uncertain terms that he'd rather the outlaw stayed away. By this point all those honey dark shades this has been produced in are beginning to look more like a bad case of golden syrup as a sentimentality takes over. There's nothing wrong with manipulating an audience towards tears, but when it was so blatant we were meant to leave with heartstrings well and truly tugged you tended to look beyond the superficial and wonder if it was really worth the emotion. There were assuredly those for whom this simple, sad tale of simple, sad folks had the desired effect, but there was the opposite camp who thought, nice try but I ain't buying what you're selling, which was a shame as there was obviously a degree of heart and soul in the project, but the fact remained it didn't quite shake off that patronising quality towards its characters. Might have been better as a country song. Music by Daniel Hart.