Writer-director David Lowery has been putting in his 10,000 hours over the past few years, working as an editor and cinematographer for hire on many micro-indie projects, as part of the growing multi-tasking barter indie culture. SXSW has championed the Texas filmmaker, playing his shorts and features; "Saint Nick" showed promise on a meager $6000 budget. His 2011 Sundance short "Pioneer" was a ramp-up to this feature film. Now he has collected all his chits and ideas in one exquisitely crafted neo-noir western, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints." The title was a misreading of an old American folk song; Lowery felt that it captured the right "classical, regional" feel, he said at the Saturday premiere press conference.

While it's easy to compare this movie to Terrence Malick's "Badlands" in terms of its content-- two young bank robbers trying to grab happiness as their future disappears--and its magic hour photography (Bradford Young), Lowery puts his own stamp on this familiar material. He places his actors, led by hapless Casey Affleck and his wife Rooney Mara, who has his child while he is serving time in prison, inside a timeless sepia universe of ramshackle houses and wind-blown grasses. (The film was shot around Shreveport, Louisiana.) "I wanted it to feel old in the best sense of the word," he said.

But the supporting actors are all spot on as well: Keith Carradine, Ben Foster and Nate Parker. And the country-tinged music (long-time collaborator Daniel Hart) and percussive sound also serve to modernize this film, keeping it simultaneously in the past and present. "It's western and not western" said Hart, who used folks instruments in what he called "new ways."

Lowery is a gifted, precise filmmaker of many gifts who likes to "see moments inbetween the big moments," he said, "spaces between the silences when people are talking." He likes to leave room for the audience's imagination to get full range.

This won't be an easy sell, but the right distributor could take this classic film all the way to the Oscars. It's likely to be Weinstein, which owns foreign rights and has first look at domestic.

The Hollywood Reporter: