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Review: Texas Killing Fields, starring Sam Worthington

10.14.2011by: Eric Walkuski

PLOT: Two detectives in a small Texas town find themselves faced with what may be a serial killer who dumps his victims in an eerie marsh nicknamed “the Killing Fields”.

REVIEW: TEXAS KILLING FIELDS wants to be a great many things; it doesn't lack for ambition. At once a police procedural, a small town drama, a mystery-thriller, an incisive character study – and more – the film often feels like it's suffering from an identity crisis instead of being the multi-layered experience it wants to be.

Directed by Ami Canaan Mann (daughter of Michael Mann, who produced this), TEXAS KILLING FIELDS stars Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as slightly mismatched partners investigating a murder in their laconic town. Complications ensue when a detective in a nearby county (Jessica Chastain) – who happens to be the Worthington character's ex-wife – catches a missing person report and links it to the first murder. Later, when a woman is attacked in her home by a masked assailant, who is subsequently foiled, it becomes obvious that a killer (or killers) is at work, and anyone could be next. This last point is further brought home when the villain starts calling the detectives in order to mock them...

Mann's film is an initially interesting one. The characters she creates, while not exceptionally original, have a lived-in feel that engages us: Worthington's character is the impulsive, good old boy sort, while Morgan is a laid back New York City transplant. The movie gets a lot of leverage from the strong screen presences of both actors; Morgan in particular is such a gifted and natural performer – there's no “acting” about him. Chastain brings a lot of energy to her feisty cop, who has a typically rocky relationship with her ex, as both are intense and prone to violence. Chloe Moretz (“Hit Girl”!) is a street smart kid whose shitty family necessitates that she spend more time out of the house than in it, and her character sets into motion the movie's third act, where all of the pieces start fitting together...

What TEXAS KILLING FIELDS frankly lacks is a truly compelling mystery. The fact is, there aren't many suspects to choose from, so we're able to narrow down our bad guy from the small group of perps pretty easily: There's a shady mechanic (Stephen Graham), who lives with the young Moretz character's mother. There's a couple of creepy pimps (Jason Clarke and Marcus Lyle Brown), there's a small contingent of suspicious rednecks and that's about it. None of these people are given a whole lot of screen time, so none of them are of particular interest outside of their potential to be the murderer. When all is revealed, there's zero surprise value. This combined with a somewhat meandering pace where the film takes perhaps too much time getting to where it's going make the picture an interesting, but never fascinating, experience.

On the positive side, Mann certainly has a keen eye for atmospheric scenery; the "killing fields" themselves are the stuff of horror movies, and a few of the film's tenser moments are handled with efficiency. As I noted before, the film's main strength is in its casting, as both of the male leads are just strong enough to carry a story that's not as compelling as they are.

Extra Tidbit: TEXAS KILLING FIELDS opens in limited release on OCTOBER 14th.



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