Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints vs. Prisoner, two disparate films about individuals disregarding the law in favor of their own, personal justice.
PremiseWhile set in drastically different landscapes and time periods, both Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Prisoners deal with the themes of family, morality, and taking the law into one’s own hands. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints tells the story of aesthetically pleasing outlaw couple Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara)—extra points for flawless ’70s Texas outlaw names—who live an alluring life of passion and crime. When the amorous couple find themselves in a shootout, Ruth wounds an officer, but her gentlemanly lover takes the blame, landing himself in prison. Never one to play by the rules, Bob escapes years later to track down the woman he loves and their four-year-old daughter, whom he has never met. Prisoners follows another man attempting to reunite his family while flouting the law, this time in modern-day Boston. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) are devastated when their young daughter and her friend are kidnapped. When the lawman who vows to track her down, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) fails to make good on his promise, Keller takes the law into his own hands, imprisoning and torturing the man he believes to be the culprit, the driver of a creepy looking RV named Alex Jones (Paul Dano). The story of the idealistic family man pushed to become a relentless criminal is a bit tired. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, however, seems to offer a more nuanced and likely heartbreaking depiction of what a man in love is willing to do for his family.Advantage: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
The Bigger the Crime…Bob Muldoon was an outlaw from the get-go, so one cannot be particularly surprised he’s got the gall to break out of prison. He didn’t even commit the crime he was accused of, so there is bound to be some sort of legal gray area there. Besides, how hard can it possibly be to escape incarceration in 1970s Texas? Keller Dover, on the other hand, is a straight-laced family man, who probably pays his parking tickets on time. In the pursuit of justice and revenge, he kidnaps and tortures another human being, an act which is not only out of character but could also land him serious jail time (in present day Boston, where he likely could not escape even if he tried).Advantage: Prisoners
SettingCrimes are infinitely more romantic when performed in the South. Furthermore, the rural scenery of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints makes everything about this film effortlessly believable. Rolling plains, beat-up barns, colorful sunsets, and dirt roads add charm and beauty to an already alluring film. In real life, Boston seems like a very nice place to live. In the movies, however, boy do they have a kidnapping, murder, and sexual violence problem! Gone Baby Gone, The Departed, Mystic River, The Town—we’ve had our fill of crime thrillers set in present-day Beantown.Advantage: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
CastPrisoners has got itself some Hollywood heavyweights (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal) and dependable talent (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis). Paul Dano even grants the ensemble some indie cred; however, every last one of them has made his or her fair share of missteps. We’re also not sold on the dashing and lovable Jackman’s ability to transform himself into a coldhearted torturer, particularly after watching him hit those high notes in Les Misérables for three straight hours. Dano, however, is an intriguing choice for a creepy alleged kidnapper/pedophile. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints abounds with indisputable acting prowess. Casey Affleck proved he can play a convincing outlaw with a southern accent in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Rooney Mara’s résumé is rather solid. It’s evident in the trailer that these two have chemistry (and look pretty spiffy together). Add to the lineup Ben Foster as Patrick Wheeler, the sheriff bent on bringing the couple to justice, and you have yourself a wildly talented cast with a track record for choosing top-notch projects.Advantage: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
DirectorOne of the most interesting factors concerning Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is writer/director David Lowery. Though Lowery may be relatively unknown by name, he is a jack of all trades in the film biz and, thus far, a master of all. Most recently, Lowery edited Shane Carruth’s mesmerizing Upstream Color, a frontrunner for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance. He also has ample experience as a cinematographer, which would explain why the trailer depicts magic hours akin to a Terrence Malick film. Lowery is yet to prove his ability to pen and direct a film of this magnitude, but with a cast this picky about the films they select and a trailer this beautiful, we’re willing to bet he nails it. Prisoners’ director Denis Villeneuve blew our minds with his Oscar-nominated film Incendies, which told the heart-wrenching stories of twins returning to the Middle East in search of where they came from. The film is subtle, tragic, and surprising. We can only hope Villeneuve brings a similar vision to the seemingly predictable Prisoners. Though our interest is piqued by Lowery, Villeneuve has already proven himself more than capable.Advantage: Prisoners
The VerdictThough both these films might be worth a trip to the cinema, with its knockout cast, stunning aesthetic, and less in-your-face plotline, we have to give the victory to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. You may want to bring along some Kleenex, as even the trailer has got us bleary-eyed.Winner: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.