Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Leave No Trace

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

The first thing that strikes you in Leave No Trace is the density of the Pacific Northwest forest—all that enveloping greenness. People live in these woods, swallowed up by the choking undergrowth. And that’s the way they want it. The movie’s title, usually employed as an anti-littering motto, refers to a main character’s desire to vanish from society, to exist on his own terms and then disappear.

The forest in question is actually a park just outside Portland; it’s close enough to walk into the city for supplies. The disappearing man is Will (Ben Foster), a veteran with some degree of PTSD. What complicates his retreat from the world is his fierce bond with his adolescent daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, a New Zealander), who lives with him in the woods. They hunker down in their tent, build fires when they need to, and stay out of sight. The end of this idyll coincides with Tom’s wistful desire to have a more normal, settled life—a life that would be unbearable for her father.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Blu-ray: ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

Set somewhere between the Great Depression and seventies recession in rural Texas, where time hasn’t stopped so much as rusted to a crawl, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints plays like the cinematic answer to an outlaw folk song.

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play lovers Ruth and Bob, young adults who grew up fast under the watch of a dubious father figure (Keith Carradine) and ended up as small-time hold-up cowboys with a pick-up in place of a horse. Their world is sketched in with impressionistic snapshots, a mix of romantic hope and a doomed trajectory that ends in a shoot-out in an abandoned shack that looks like it’s been standing since the end of the old west, a prison term for Bob, and Ruth raising their daughter as a single mother, looked after by Skerrit (the shady but paternal retired outlaw played by Carradine) and looked in on by the lovesick policeman (Ben Foster) wounded in the shoot-out. He may or may not know the truth about who really pulled the trigger but he nonetheless still moons over Ruth and dotes on her daughter. It’s a delicate equilibrium that threatens to teeter over when Bob escapes lockup, sneaking back into home territory but staying on the outskirts. Because if there’s one thing law enforcement knows, it’s that Ruth means more to him than life itself. He’s written her every day he’s been in prison.

Ruth and Bob are no Bonnie and Clyde–they aren’t ruthless criminals as much as kids born to the outlaw way of life in a culture without many alternatives–and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints isn’t about heists and crime sprees. It’s a character piece about the foolish things people do for love, directed from a script that plays as if all the exposition has been edited out.

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: ‘Kill Your Darlings’

Having grown up on screen in the Harry Potter series, Daniel Radcliffe is showing absolutely no signs of an awkward transition to big-boy, non-wizard roles. He’s doing it mostly through a combination of extremely serious stage work and independent films, a smart way to make people forget you spent 10 years with a lightning bolt tattooed on your forehead.

Ben Foster, Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, and Jack Huston in ‘Kill Your Darlings’

Latest example: Kill Your Darlings, an account of a dire episode that overlapped with the birth of the Beat movement in literature. Years before anybody’d heard of Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac or William S. Burroughs, those writers were on the periphery of a 1944 murder. Their college friend Lucien Carr killed a man, David Kammerer, who had been stalking Carr; Burroughs and Kerouac were briefly arrested as accessories after the fact.

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’: Imitation of Malick

There are many things to admire about Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, from its controlled mood to its fine cast to its folkie-fiddle musical score. A great deal of care, and a lot of affection for movie history, went into this low-key Sundance success. So why am I unconvinced? Maybe everything’s just a little too right, a little too calculated in writer-director David Lowery’s neo-Western-noir. This movie always knows exactly what it’s doing, and that gets a little suffocating.

Ruth (Rooney Mara) reads her letters from the jailhouse

The ingenious opening reels introduce us to a desperate couple, Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck). Their criminal history is mostly left offscreen, but we witness a showdown with Texas cops that results in Bob taking the blame for a shot fired by the pregnant Ruth. Bob is hustled off to the pokey and four years pass, but the bullet remains lodged in the storyline: Small-town policeman Patrick (Ben Foster), the very officer wounded by Ruth’s gun, is now hanging around her and the baby.

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