By Jason Harris
Writer and director David Lowery has been a fan of westerns since he was seven when he moved to Texas, where he thought all the streets were going to be dusty and guys would be wearing big hats.
When he wrote Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a movie about an outlaw portrayed by Casey Affleck who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met, he wanted to do something that dealt with the archetypes of the western and outlaw genres.
“I wanted to pay homage to those archetypes. I didn’t want to do anything too complex. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to let them be what they have always been throughout the history of this type of storytelling.”
The movie’s title came from some misheard song lyric to an old song. They just spun around in his head, he said.
“I thought they make a good title for a movie,” Lowery said. “When it came to writing the script, I very quickly remembered that title and thought that this movie would be a fine movie for that title.”
Lowery wanted the movie to feel like an old folk song with that quality, resilience, and mentality to it. He also thinks it is very thematic since a person will not find that phrasing in any other language.
He thinks titles can prepare people for what they are going to see, which he believes his title does.
The movie is set in the 70s because it wouldn’t work in the 80s, 90s or now because of technology. It also allows it to take on grandeur tones and have a mythological and timeless feel to it, he said.
“I don’t think the story would work as well or worked at all if there were such things as cellphones or the Internet.”
He chose the outlaw genre because he wanted to play around in a genre he really liked. He wanted to do something that dealt with the archetypes of the western and outlaw genres.
This type of storytelling goes beyond the movie and goes all the way back to folk songs, American folklore, and history itself, he said.
“It was a really wonderful process to write it because I felt like I was participating in the tradition of storytelling.”
Lowery didn’t do a lot of research for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, but relied on other movies and how they used these tropes and ideas, he said. He trusted what other people have done on film in the past.
“I didn’t feel the need to tie this movie down to reality.”
That being said, Lowery did mention he had a police advisor on the film set to explain how the police would approach a farmhouse. What the advisor told him is exactly what he expected since he had seen it in other movies so many times, he said.
Even though Lowery didn’t do a lot of research for the movie. He did ask Ben Foster, one of the three main stars in the movie, to do research about how sheriff’s in Texas go about their jobs and performing their duties. Foster got to know what it was like to have that job and what that job meant.
“He brought a lot of that to the table and a lot of information I didn’t know so that was really helpful as well,” Lowery said. “He brought a lot of realism to that part that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.”
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints opens in theaters Friday, Aug. 30.