Rooney Mara has a hardness to her that not a lot of people respond to. Maybe hardness is not the right word. When she was nominted for Best Actress for title role in David Fincher's American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, her quiet, awkward demeanor on the red carpet for countless events got more notice than her nomination itself. Mara's performance in Ain't Them Bodies Saints might change some minds. Her portrayal of a strong wife waiting for her outlaw husband is one of her best performances to date.
At the beginning of the film, Ruth puts a bullet in the shoulder of a sheriff in a shootout. Her husband, Bob (Casey Affleck), convinces her that they are trapped, and they need to turn themselves in. He gives her a kiss goodbye and takes the fall. She's pregnant with their first child, and all he asks is that she wait for him. It flashes forard about four years, and Ruth with the daughter that Bob has never met. Sylvie is an adorable little girl.
Bob makes a daring escape. Affleck's desperation to see his wife and daughter is palpable, yet very restrained and quiet. He is protected by his friend named Sweeter (Nate Parker), a bar owner. Bob's escape has been made news, and soon the Sheriff Wheeler (the one Ruth shot) is looking for him. Not only is he closing in on Bob's location, but he is building a relationship with Ruth.
This film is gorgeous. Some of the best photography I've seen all year. The wide shots really soak in the beautiful scenery, and it looks someone loves Terrence Malick. I thought I was going to be bored by the story, but its dusty, muted quality really kept me invested. All three leads are subtle and powerful at the same time. This could have been played melodramatically, but the cast keeps it all grounded. Ben Foster as Wheeler is a standout--his work keeps getting better and better.
One of my favorite scenes is when Bob forces himself into a car with a terrifed woman. He holds her at gunpoint as she drives, and, without looking away from the road, she mutters: "I recognize you." The score is also playing in my head over and over.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints surprised me with its quietness and control. Pretty good stuff.