Exposition can be tough to manage in a feature film. Either you give your audience too much and turn the movie into a mindless experience, or you don’t offer enough and leave viewers too confused to appreciate the narrative. In his latest film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, writer-director David Lowery strives to hit the optimal balance so that you’re subtly directed towards what your eye should be looking at and also what your heart should be feeling.
The story hones in on a pair of married outlaws, Ruth and Bob (Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck). Their crime spree comes to a tumultuous end when Ruth shoots a local cop, Patrick (Ben Foster), but Bob takes the fall and gets hit with a substantial prison sentence. Years later, Ruth is busy raising their daughter while Patrick keeps a watchful eye over them. It’s a quaint existence until Ruth gets word that Bob escaped from jail and she knows that he’ll be coming for them.
When Lowery first set out to make Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, he aimed to make an action movie. However, as he started putting the pieces together, it became much more about the people he was writing about rather than their exploits and gunfights. Lowery recalled:
“It started with the outlaw and then I was trying to think of why would a guy break out of prison, what’s a good reason for that, and you think, well, maybe there’s someone waiting for him on the other side and you go to that archetype of the outlaw and his girl and then you think about who would be trying to stop them and then you have the law, so that represents a third character. It all falls into place pretty simply, and where it gets interesting is just trying to turn those into real people to some extent.”
And that’s where the need to strike the ideal balance between guiding an audience and letting them think for themselves comes in. Lowery wanted to insure that the viewers that immediately connected to the material got what they needed, but also that the ones in need of more direction, knew what to focus on. He explained:
“I love letting someone tell me what they think is important to pay attention to, and I try in this movie to let the audience know what you should be paying attention to. It comes very subtly. The information is all there. All the pieces you need are there, but it doesn’t dole it out in any sort of extravagant fashion.”
That subtle presentation of information makes you wonder, what were Ruth, Bob and Patrick like prior to the shootout? What happened during the years after Bob was arrested, but before he escaped? Foster noted that while those questions were discussed, no answers were locked in:
“David and I worked quite a bit, mostly in discussion and talking around. Nothing was nailed down on paper, but you gotta fill in the cracks for yourself before you can put it to screen.”
Foster is aiming to direct a film of his own, a project he’s working on with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints production company, Parts and Labor. There hasn’t been much movement on the effort and story details were never divulged, but should the plot involve cats or children, Foster would take a cue from Lowery:
“He’s incredible with kids and creates such a wonderful environment for people just to be themselves … I had a lot to learn with patience and being with the little whippersnappers. He’d just sit and play with the cat and the girl and all of a sudden, the girl and the cat were trained and ready to go.”
You can catch Foster and Lowery talking about all of this and more in the full video interview below:
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints will be in select theaters on August 16th or on VOD on August 23rd.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.
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