(David Lowery, USA, 2014)
Lowery's somber tale is an unapologetic tone piece, emphasizing characters and emotional temperature over story. But Saints doesn't quite deliver the goods, despite an impressive attention to detail. It's an unfortunate case of the whole being just a bit less than the sum of the parts; built upon a smart, sensitive script, with a capable cast and an uncommonly subtle visual scheme, the movie nonetheless falters in its attempt to summon deep feelings. I'm still not entirely sure what Lowery was going for: there are moments where the story feels unintentionally sketchy, half-remembered, and overly vague, as if we were viewing the events through a haze of bourbon. Lowery's touch proves to be too soft, and the film hovers uneasily between darker exploration of morality and a brighter, more vivid tale of frustrated love. It's a careful film, a studied film, but its firm, gentle insistence on its own seriousness isn't enough to bring it to life. The fairy tale insularity, which was exploited brilliantly by Malick in Badlands (a clear influence on Saints that Lowery handles rather well) is stripped of any emotional or philosophical heft. It's a film about lost love and sin and redemption and crime and bloodshed and fate that feels strangely, quietly soothing.