This movie has been hovering in my Netflix queue for a little while now. The cast alone is worthy of a typical must-see movie (Sam Worthington! Papa Winchester! Hit Girl!), and the trailer was gritty enough to catch my eye. But for some reason, I kept putting Texas Killing Fields off…
Now I know why.
Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan portray a pair of detectives in Texas City, TX who share responsibilities with other local jurisdictions over a desolate 25-acre area of Southeast Texas known as the “Killing Fields.” The name comes from a string of young female murders (and disappearances) in the area, with bodies being found among the mesquite trees. Jessica Chastain portrays a hard-nosed female detective working a similar killing in a nearby jurisdiction, and the three detectives tentatively work together to try to solve what’s going on before another young girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) suffers a similar fate.
It’s not that Texas Killing Fields is a bad movie. It’s decent enough for a rainy afternoon’s viewing – but that’s really about it. Some of the performances are very good (especially Morgan, Moretz, and Chastain) and Worthington holds his own, much to my delight. However, the overall feeling is that the movie could have – and should have – been much, much better. The director (Ami Canaan Mann) is the daughter of prolific director Michael Mann, so her interest in gritty film-making should be no surprise. What is a surprise is the painful lack of pacing and clear direction in her film.
There’s very little horror here for fans – aside from some swearing, this could easily have been a TV Movie of the Week. The movie’s red herrings are all too obvious – and the real “killer” is painfully clear from the get-go. More annoyingly, the film throws in several tidbits to add to the drama – all of which go nowhere and mean nothing: two of the detectives used to be married, Moretz’s wayward Anne continues to be taken back to her home – where her mom (Twin Peaks‘ Sheryl Lee – seriously underused here) performs sex-acts for money and/or drugs. Clearly the entire setup is simply to evoke sympathy for the young character prior to dropping her into the whole murder mystery – but it begged for some serious suspension of disbelief. And while most of the real-life aspects of the case(s) are handled surprisingly well, the makers of Texas Killing Fields felt the need to tack on an un-real, ultra-Hollywood happy ending that also rings hollow. Mostly because it is – the real killer(s) have never been found.
Ultimately, Texas Killing Fields feels like a labor of love for some – and a half-hearted attempt by others. It’s unfortunate because when watching it, you get the idea that they had a gem in the rough here. They just didn’t bother to polish it.