Looking at David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints from a purely visual perspective, it glimmers with the same heightened aura that has defined the work of enigmatic director Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life). Emotionally torn characters walk slowly through scenes of nature, sunlight dipping into and out of frame, their voice-over narration pushing the story forward in a lyrical way.
But to compartmentalize Lowery's impressive 1950s-set drama in such a way ultimately does it a disservice. The languishing story of a convicted bank robber named Bob (Casey Affleck) who escapes prison to retrieve his estranged wife Ruth (Rooney Mara) in a small Texas town is in many ways more practical about its view of romance. Unlike Malick's more ethereal work, love cannot be recaptured in Ain't Them Bodies Saints, even if it can be redeemed.
A romantic triangle quickly develops in the film, the third side being a stoic sheriff named Patrick (Ben Foster) who was seriously wounded during the shootout preceding Bob and Ruth's capture. As Bob evades police and a trio of cowboy assassins, Ruth and Patrick begin to develop an unspoken rapport by simply sharing time together.
Conflict stems from desire in Ain't Them Bodies Saints: the need to return home, reflect and love again. While crime elements are apparent, the film's heart rests in Ruth's difficult decision between two romantic options: a man of the past or present, the here or there. It all comes to a strikingly subtle culmination without a shot fired, during the afterglow of a child's birthday party.
An accomplished editor as well, Lowery cut together Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, giving it a sense of forward momentum and impending fate that helped transcend its bedazzling narrative. The same filmmaking sensibility can be found here in the slow crawl of a Texas town moving away from the mythos of the Wild West and toward something sublime.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints opens Friday, Aug. 30, at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
—Glenn Heath Jr.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints: Set in the 1950s, David Lowery's poetic crime film tells the story of an escaped prisoner (Casey Affleck) who returns home to a small Texas town to retrieve his wife (Rooney Mara) and young daughter.
Captive Beauty: Documentary from Colombia that looks at a popular beauty pageant involving female prisoners at a maximum-security penitentiary. Screens Through Sept. 4 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Closed Circuit: Two British lawyers (Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall) get caught up in a deadly terrorist plot that exposes the dangerous and pervasive power of the secret intelligence community.
Drinking Buddies: Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play co-workers at a Chicago craft brewery who flirt and drink and find nothing but complicated romance. Directed by indie stalwart Joe Swanberg.
Getaway: When his wife is kidnapped, Ethan Hawke must get behind the wheel and follow the orders of a mysterious man who may be responsible for her disappearance. Selena Gomez co-stars.
Grand Canyon Adventure: Take a picturesque journey into the heart of the Grand Canyon, where raging rapids are framed by stunning rock formations and deep blue skies. Screens through Sept. 5 at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Grandmaster: The story of kung-fu master Ip Man in his early days, created through the hyper-realized style of filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai.
Instructions Not Included: A smarmy playboy (Eugenio Derbez) gets a rude awakening when an ex-flame drops off a baby at his doorstep, forcing him to become an unlikely father figure.
One Direction: This is Us: Go behind the scenes with the famous boy band from England as they embark on a worldwide tour, to the delight of thousands of screaming fans.
Passion: In the latest from director Brian De Palma, two advertising executives (Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams) become bitter rivals after a series of betrayals and public humiliations escalate to murder.
Una Noche: A group of nervy teens prepare for the dangerous journey from Cuba to Miami in this vibrant tale about resolve and devotion. Screens through Sept. 5 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One Time Only
The Princess Bride: Director Rob Reiner turns the damsel-in-distress movie into a playful and rambunctious romance about everlasting love. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido and at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, through Sunday, Sept. 1 at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Blazing Saddles: The classic Mel Brooks western / musical / comedy still feels fresh and subversive to this day. Quote away freely. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Beetlejuice: Tim Burton's demented ghost story starring Michael Keaton stands as a classic of modern gonzo comedy. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at The Lafayette Hotel in North Park.
The Croods: A dysfunctional caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy when their cave is suddenly destroyed. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at Ocean Beach Elementary School.
Split Infinity Film Festival: A program of short films that are less than 15 minutes long and adhere to an "Art+Science" theme. Starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery.
Dance, Dance: In this extraordinary film, 50 years of history passes in segments. Dialogue and relationships are realized through music and dancing. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at Amici Park in Little Italy.
The Red Shoes: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's ravishing melodrama about a ballerina torn between love and career advancement. Presented by Forty-Foot Films, it screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, and Tuesday, Sept. 3, and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Hey Hey It's Esther Blueberger: Esther befriends a duck, talks to God through the toilet and break-dances at her Bat Mitzvah. An outcast at her private school, her life is miserable until she befriends Sunni, the effortlessly cool girl. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 3, at Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
The Harder They Come: In this iconic gangster film from Jamaica, singer Jimmy Cliff redefined what it meant to go outlaw. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Arclight La Jolla.
Sideways: I will not drink merlot! Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: The venerable edgy 'toon-fest has returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location with a 20th-anniversary show that runs through Nov. 23. Voice actor Billy West (Futurama, Ren & Stimpy) will make appearances on Sept. 13 and 14.
Austenland: A single, 30-something woman (Keri Russell) obsessed with Jane Austen sinks her life savings into a lavish English vacation to an Austen-themed manor hoping to find her Mr. Darcy.
Cutie and the Boxer: Zachary Heinzerling's documentary about renowned boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his artist wife, Noriko, won the award for Best Director at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Ends Aug. 29 at the Ken Cinema.
Drug War: Hong Kong director Johnnie To's absorbing and relentless cops vs. criminals thriller explores the pervasive and devastating nature of drug smuggling in Mainland China.
Exitos del Cine Latino: A celebration of Latino film, music and art presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival. Ends Aug. 29 at Digiplex Mission Valley Cinemas and Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Hunt: Mads Mikkelsen (NBC's Hannibal) stars as a humble school teacher accused of an unthinkable crime in a small-town Danish community.
Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West: The legendary explorers' famous journey is re-created here, depicting the strenuous hardships and gorgeous scenery in equal measure. Ends Aug. 29 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: Clary Fray (Lily Collins) finds out truths about her past and bloodline when her mom is attacked and taken from their home in New York City by a demon.
The World's End: The creative team behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz return with this sci-fi comedy about a group of estranged childhood friends who reunite for an epic pub-crawl, only to find a menacing alien presence occupying their home town.
In a World : Lake Bell wrote, directed and stars in this film about an underachieving vocal coach who makes a play at becoming a voiceover star, following in her famous father's footsteps.
Jobs: The life and times of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), from college dropout to one of the most respected and revered entrepreneurs of his time.
Kick-Ass 2: Costumed heroes Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnston) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are back fighting crime in this sure-to-be bloody sequel to the popular 2010 film.
Lee Daniels' The Butler: Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves as a butler in the White House for seven consecutive presidents, witnessing shifts in civil rights and foreign policy from a fascinating vantage point.
Paranoia: Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford play corporate gangsters who square off against each other using poor Liam Hemsworth as a pawn.
The Spectacular Now: An alcoholic high-school senior (Miles Teller) romances an inexperienced fellow student (Shailene Woodley) and inadvertently falls in love.
Elysium: After being diagnosed with a terminal disease, a factory worker (Matt Damon) attempts to infiltrate a manmade space habitat where the world's wealthy now live in permanent luxury. Directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9).
Lovelace: Amanda Seyfried stars in this biopic about Linda Lovelace, the legendary porn star who overcame her abusive husband to take control of her life outside the industry.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: The titular son of Poseidon must embark on a quest to the Sea of Monsters in order to stop a rising tide of ancient evil.
Planes: The kids will probably do flips for this animated Disney film about a crop-dusting plane who dreams of competing in a famous aerial race.
We're the Millers: In order to sneak a huge Mexican weed shipment into the U.S., a veteran pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) creates a fake family in hopes of bypassing authorities. Co-starring Jennifer Aniston.
2 Guns: Plenty of bullets will be spent in this action comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington as dueling law-enforcement officers trying to clear their names.
Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen's latest comedy showcases the amazing Cate Blanchett as an entitled 1-percenter who experiences a harrowing fall from grace.
Blackfish: SeaWorld and its potentially corrupt business practices take a shellacking in this documentary about the killer whale responsible for three deaths during its time in captivity.
Smurfs 2: Another Smurfs movie, because why not?
Storm Surfers 3D: Surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones travel the globe seeking the ultimate wave, in 3-D.
The Wolverine: Hugh Jackman reprises his iconic role as the immortal clawed X-Man battling a brutal band of Yakuza in modern Japan.
The Conjuring: Ghosts and demons haunt a large suburban family who just moved into a rickety Rhode Island home with a dark past. It's directed by horror maestro James Wan (Insidious, Saw).
Grown Ups 2: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James return for another round of juvenile debauchery in this sequel to the 2010 comedy.
Pacific Rim: From the mind of Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro: The world is under attack by reptilian monsters, so mankind resorts to building gigantic robots as the last line of defense.
The Way, Way Back: A 14-year-old boy finds self-worth during a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her combative new boyfriend (Steve Carell).
20 Feet From Stardom: Backup singers for today's superstars finally take center stage in this music documentary featuring a range of inspirational stories about artistic endurance and passion.
Despicable Me 2: Gru (Steve Carell) and his army of minions attempt to transcend their roles as villains and save the world in this sequel to the popular 2010 animated film.
Monsters University: Professional frighteners and quibbling buddies Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are back for Pixar's first-ever prequel set during their wild college days.
Much Ado About Nothing: The Avengers director Joss Whedon steps out of his comfort zone and updates the Bard's classically romantic skirmish of wits with this jazzy black-and-white ensemble piece.
This is the End: It's the end of the world as we know it, and the Judd Apatow reunion tour feels just fine. Directed by Seth Rogen, this comedy apocalypse is sure to include multiple plumes of ganja smoke.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.