Texas had a strong showing at Sundance this year. *Dallas filmmaking maverick Shane Carruth stunned audiences with his long-awaited Upstream Color. His co-editor for Upstream Color, David Lowery also triumphed at Park City with his sophomore feature, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints—winning the Best Cinematography award while riding on a wave of good will all the way to Cannes. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara stars as Bob and Ruth, a pair of outlaw lovers in 1970s Texas whose days on the run come to an end when Bob is arrested and incarcerated. Eventually, Bob breaks out of prison and traveled across Texas in hopes to reunite with his beloved wife and the daughter who he has yet to meet. Meanwhile, Ruth is befriended by a young lawman named Patrick (Ben Foster), whose affection for the single mother is not hindered by his quest to capture her husband once again. The outlaw couple, monologues, Texas landscape inevitably draw comparisons to the films of Terrence Malick, another Texan whose Badlands is cited in almost every review of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Lowery’s film also carries a hint of Southern Gothic—a wanted man in the hill country with impeding doom awaits. Lowery is clearly a connoisseur of all things retro and Texas yet he is also keen on injecting new flavors into his film.
The cinematography by Bradford Young is breathtaking to say the least. If one has to name the biggest “it” guy coming out of this year’s Sundance, Young is the name to remember. His work on Lowery’s film and Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George both garnered widespread acclaimed at the festival and both are tapped to be two of the most celebrated independent films of the year. Casey Affleck has fashioned him to an enigmatic thespian—more in the mold of his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix than his brother Ben Affleck. After turns in films by the likes of David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh, Rooney Mara is now the American actress to watch for the years to come. With all said, the parts of Lowery’s film seem to work better than the sum of them. There are moments when the writing becomes a bit frustrating to follow and when the soundtrack gets a bit too heavy-handed. But let’s keep in mind that this is the first time Lowery has made a film with more than a micro-budget. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a fruitful career.
*The original version of this article erroneously noted Carruth as “Dallas-born” but his actual birthplace is Myrtle Beach, SC. He and his family moved to Dallas since he was in the 9th grade.