“I liked the idea that the characters get a second chance,” says first-time director Alison Eastwood of her new film “Rails & Ties.” “I like that the film didn’t have a totally happy ending but that it also had lighter elements. To me, it felt like a slice of life.” Make that a thick slice.
A woman losing her battle with cancer (Marcia Gay Harden) befriends a distraught young boy (newcomer Miles Heizer) whose desperate mother commits suicide on the railroad tracks. The twist? Harden’s husband in the film (Kevin Bacon) is the engineer of the train that killed the boy’s mother.
Messy? Yes. But Eastwood steers “Rails & Ties” toward surprisingly deep destinations, illuminating, perhaps, what happens when people find hope in the most unlikely places. And while Harden and Bacon shine, they’re merely along for the ride. It’s young Heizerwho keeps this cinematic train from derailing.
“We saw about 40 kids during auditions,” Eastwood says, “and right away, I knew — that’s the kid! And each time he came in, it was more evident to me that he was the one. And it was a huge responsibility for a kid to go to the emotional places he had to go to.”
It’s true. The film is so emotionally overpowering it ought to come with a warning to bring Kleenex.
The emotional element is what initially attracted Eastwood to the project.
“I hadn’t thought of directing, but I was inspired and I wanted to tell this story,’ she says. “As an actor, it had been hard, but I came to realize that everything I’ve been through had led me to the place of making a film. It took that question about ‘Why have I been doing what I am doing?’ and changed it to ‘Oh … I get it.’
“And it’s not often that I get emotional when reading scripts,” she adds. “But I liked the idea that through tragedy, loss and grief, that you can make connections with people, and have realizations that come out of them.”
She says she didn’t mind using some filmmaking — and life — advice she once received from her Oscar-winning father, Clint
“He’s a laid-back guy, you know,” Eastwood notes, “but he told me, ‘Be professional, do the job well, and at the end of the day, don’t take things too seriously.’”
The freshman director says she’d welcome more opportunities to get behind the lens.
“I actually found what I love to do,” she says. “It’s weird, because I’ve enjoyed acting, but never felt that comfortable or confident in it, and I didn’t find the great work I’d hoped to find. But within the first day of shooting this, it felt like I’d been doing it all of my life. Here I am, 35, and I’d had a strange, wild life, but when I came to this, I felt like I had arrived.”