Comparisons to Terrence Malick are unavoidable with “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which takes its Southwestern milieu and feckless outlaw couple from “Badlands” but filters it through the more mystical lensing and languid pacing of “Tree of Life.” And just like Malick, director David Lowery’s weak point is probably script, but he makes up for it on every other front, with magic-hour cinematography and a rapturous score.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star as doomed lovers Bob and Ruth in rural Texas at some point in the 1960s or thereabouts. It’s a basic setup of a botched robbery, a shot cop and jail time for Bob. He promises her, “Just wait for me, someday I’ll be back,” and that she does, raising their daughter as a single mom, even as the cop (Ben Foster) shyly courts her, not knowing her dark secret. Things come to a head when Bob breaks out of jail heading for Ruth, while his old business associates come looking for him, guns drawn.
Lowery starts the film with a flourish before settling down into an elliptical, discursive style, aiming for a mythical feel, but the grounded performances keep it from veering into pretentiousness. Not a perfect film, but Lowery, an editor by trade, is clearly one to watch.