The Films of David Lowery
Ain't Them Bodies Saints (July 17/18)
Written and directed by David Lowery, Ain't Them Bodies Saints follows Casey Affleck's Bob Muldoon as he escapes from prison and embarks on a quest to reunite with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara's Ruth Guthrie) - with Bob's efforts consistently stymied by a local cop (Ben Foster's Patrick Wheeler) with a crush on Ruth. Filmmaker Lowery delivers an often excessively deliberate endeavor that's clearly been inspired by the work of Terrence Malick, as Ain't Them Bodies Saints boasts (or suffers from) a dreamy feel that's reflected in the elliptical editing and lush visuals - with Lowery's ongoing emphasis on mood over content slowly but surely draining the viewer's interest. It's a shame, really, given that the picture does feature a handful of undeniably positive elements, with Lowery's striking visuals and the stars' stirring work going a long way towards compensating for a generally momentum-free narrative - although it's equally apparent that Lowery's meandering modus operandi proves an ongoing test to one's patience. And while the film does improve slightly once Affleck's character begins to plan his way back into Ruth's life, Ain't Them Bodies Saints builds to a somewhat endless climactic stretch that is hardly as riveting or heartwrenching as Lowery has surely intended - with the final result a well-made yet mostly ineffective effort from an obviously talented filmmaker (albeit one who desperately needs to find his own voice).
A remake of 1977's fairly unwatchable Pete's Dragon, Pete's Dragon follows a young boy (Oakes Fegley's Pete) as he survives a car crash that kills his parents and retreats into the woods - where he meets and befriends an enormous dragon he names Elliot. The bond between the two unlikely characters is inevitably tested, though, as Pete is found by several lumberjacks and brought into town (and into the care of Bryce Dallas Howard's Grace) - while Elliot faces discovery by a nefarious figure (Wes Bentley's Jack) bent on notoriety. It's clear immediately that David Lowery isn't looking to replicate the feel or tone of Pete's Dragon's disastrous predecessor, as the filmmaker, working from a script cowritten with Toby Halbrooks, has infused the proceedings with a lush, intensely cinematic feel that remains a consistent highlight. (It's clear, too, that the movie benefits from a series of impressively strong performances.) The movie's slow-but-steady downfall, then, can be attributed to an overly deliberate pace and excessively familiar narrative, with, in terms of the latter, Lowery and Halbrooks suffusing the midsection with one almost unreasonably hoary cliché after another - which increasingly alienates the viewer and makes it awfully difficult to work up any interest in the characters' progressively perilous exploits. It's not surprising to note, ultimately, that the third act's various emotional revelations are simply unable to pack the punch Lowery has clearly intended, and Pete's Dragon is, in the end, an awfully well-intentioned misfire that feels as though it should be so much better.
A Ghost Story (July 19/17)
An often jaw-droppingly audacious and singular piece of work, A Ghost Story follows a married couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) as their subdued lives are thrown into turmoil after he’s killed in a car accident – with the bulk of the movie detailing Affleck’s character, now a ghost underneath a sheet, as he helplessly observes his former paramour attempt to move on. Filmmaker David Lowery makes his less-than-mainstream intentions apparent right from the get-go, as A Ghost Story, which generally moves at a glacial pace, boasts an intensely idiosyncratic execution that’s reflected in its myriad of art-house-friendly attributes – including an oddball visual style and an emphasis on long, static takes. (The latter is, at the outset, something of a hurdle to overcome, with, especially, a four-minute long shot of Mara’s figure gloomily eating a pie testing one’s patience.) It’s clear, then, that A Ghost Story begins its transformation into a haunting and often unbearably sad endeavor once Affleck’s spirit returns home, as Lowery infuses much of the movie’s midsection with a melancholic tone that’s heightened by one’s growing sympathy for the admittedly low-rent apparition (ie his inability to do much of anything besides stand and watch is nothing short of devastating). Lowery’s decision to put his own spin on many of the touchstones associated with ghost-centric stories perpetuates the engrossing vibe (eg the apparition can’t leave the property, the apparition throws a temper tantrum, etc, etc), and there’s little doubt, as well, that Lowery’s progressively outré approach paves the way for a seriously hypnotic third act. The surprising and downright inexplicable final stretch ultimately cements A Ghost Story's massive, impressive success, and it's clear that Lowery has delivered a completely original drama that's often as engrossing as it is affecting.