Synopsis: In the Texas bayous, a local homicide detective teams up with a cop from New York City to investigate a series of unsolved murders.
Don Farrarone is a man who knows people. After spending 28 years as a high level DEA Agent he now works as a technical consultant for Hollywood film makers who need to get access to people in jobs to whom most people wouldn’t get access; Federal Agents; Fighter Pilots etc. He obviously knows the ins and outs of a police investigation. Texas Killing Fields was his first screenwriting gig. Having worked with some quality directors (Michael Mann, Tony Scott) he must have picked up a thing or two about structuring a compelling story. The same must be true also of Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, this being her feature length debut as director. Between them they should have been able to create something above the average Hollywood thriller fare.
So it is a shame that Texas Killing Fields is such a flabby mess.
Texas Killing Fields looks great, and so it should do. You don’t grow up around one of the great contemporary visual directors of their generation (Michael Mann) and not pick up a thing or two. Like her father, Ami Canaan Mann know how to light and frame a dramatic shot. She makes full use of the grimy, sweaty Bayou in which it is set to conjure a sense of oppressive atmosphere. Unfortunately, well lit scenes alone do not make a compelling story. if I want to look at something pretty for two hours I will go to the beach or flick through pictures of Jennifer Lawrence/Ryan Gosling.
The background to the Texas Killing Fields makes for an interesting story. An 80 kilometer stretch of highway between Houston and Galveston, the I-45 got the nickname of the Highway of Hell due to the unusual number of young women/girls bodies that have been found in the fields there. In the last 40 years around 30 bodies have been pulled out of the bayou. Hence the term Killing Fields. The film sets the story around two local Texas City Police officers, Brian Heigh (Dean Morgan) and Mike Souder (Sam Worthington), who get involved in investigating a recent spate of murders of young women in the fields. The tension comes from the dynamic between the two main officers. Heigh is a former NYPD officer who evidently has baggage and came to Texas City to get away from it all; Souder is the young, hothead who doesn’t want his partner getting dragged into investigating crimes outside their jurisdiction (both actual officers worked as technical advisers on the film). So far, so a lot of other thrillers.
The issue with Texas Killing Fields is it doesn’t seem to know which of the many storylines or characters introduced that it is supposed to be focusing on. The true story of the Texas Killing Fields is they have never determined whether it is the work of one or a team of serial killer(s) operating over the full 40 years, individual unconnected crimes or a mixture of the above. As such there are numerous suspects and I got the sense during the third act they try and build a sense of mis-direction to keep you guessing that falls flat and left me feeling unsatisfied when the credits rolled. I don’t mind ambiguous endings but one storyline that was followed all the way through the film was just left flapping like Jon Hamm’s dong in a wind tunnel. When the credits kicked in I actually said out loud “So what the hell was all that other stuff for then?” (I was more specific but don’t want to give away any spoilers). Plus anyone who has seen a million other thrillers will spot the killers the moment they turn up on screen. Again, not to spoil anything but I’d be surprised if you didn’t.
The criminal thing is that it is a film that never equals the sizable sum of it’s parts given the impressive cast. Jefferey Dean Morgan is compelling as the quiet bearlike Detective Heigh who is liable to snap and go postal if you push the right buttons. Jessica Chastain does what she can as the tough female Detective Stall with some fairly plodding dialogue; Stephen Graham and Jason Clarke both do quiet menacing in very different ways. I have not seen Clarke do full crazy before, the closest being his role as the slow brother in Lawless. Anyone who has followed Graham’s career though, most notably in This Is England and Boardwalk Empire as Al Capone, will know how much threat he can portray by just looking at you. Chloe Grace Moretz is fine as the abused daughter of a local shit-pile family. Of all of them Sam Worthington is the one who I could take or leave. As with Avatar I found his performance as compelling as a soggy tissue.
I couldn’t help but feel this would have been better as a Zodiac style study of obsession with an unknown killer. Might not have been a satisfying ending but would have been more compelling.
Conclusion: Disappointing use of a great cast and interesting story to create a lovely looking mess of a narrative. Should have stuck with a thread and followed that through.
Director: Ami Canaan Mann – Daughter of Hollywood great Michael Mann. First feature length movie. Daughters of Hollywood directors tend not to do so well (Sofia Copolla’s work has gone someway to cover up the trainwreck that was Jennifer Lynch’s Boxing Helena). Evidently knows how to frame a shot, but now needs to work on storytelling a little more.
Writer: Don Ferrarone – Ex-DEA agent turned Hollywood technical advisor turned Hollywood screenwriter.
Cast: Jeffery Dean Morgan, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Graham, Jason Clarke, Chloe Grace Moretz, Annabeth Gish
- In preparation for their roles, Sheryl Lee and Chloë Grace Moretz spent time in a rehabilitation center for drug addicts.
Currently streaming on SkyMovies