Based loosely on a true story, Mike Sounder (Sam Worthington) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) play two cops investigating crime in the Texas bayous. Heigh becomes increasingly drawn to a series of murders where the bodies of the victims are dumped in an area that’s become known as The Killing Fields. Local guy Souder warns New York transplant Heigh against getting too deep into the investigation, partly because it’s outside their jurisdiction and partly because he knows it’s dangerous and you can get lost in trying to make sense of what’s going on.
However Heigh can’t give up and soon attracts the attention of the killer, who starts to seem as if he’s taunting the police with red herring clues. Then a local girl goes missing and the stakes are raised.
With Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, Chloe Moretz and Stephen Graham in the cast, there’s no doubt there’s a lot of talent in front of the camera in Texas Killing Fields. Performance-wise they deliver the goods, making the most of what they’re given. Sadly though, what they are given is confused, frustrating and jumbled.
After the movie finished, I half wondered if the original script was massively longer than the finished film, as it feels as if chunks of the movie are missing. Characters come out of nowhere, give what turns out to be vaguely irrelevant info and then disappear, ideas are started and then promptly forgotten, and the plot moves in one direction before taking a left turn and going somewhere else. It may just be that the script always was a bit of a mess, but it’s difficult not to wonder if the film was initially planned as a lengthy crime epic and got edited down to a more easily saleable 100 minutes, losing its coherence in the process.
If that’s what happened it’s a shame, because, as mentioned, the performances are great. Ami Canaan Mann – daughter of Michael Mann – also proves a talent to watch with this feature directorial debut. The film has a great sense of menace and darkness, and Mann proves more than adept at creating mood. That said, she could do with learning that just because something is dark and grim, it doesn’t intrinsically make it worthwhile, as there are several occasions where unpleasant things happen that have precious little to do with anything other than underlining that anything and everyone in this area of Texas is pretty unpleasant.
Hidden in Texas Killing Fields is the making of a superb, utterly absorbing thriller, which is obviously what attracted the excellent cast in. Somewhere along the line something went wrong, with the result that while there are numerous excellent scenes, some great ideas and it certainly creates a dark and dirty mood, all this ends up being to very little effect due to a jumbled narrative and lack of consistency.
Overall Verdict: The actors certainly give it their all and Ami Canaan Mann proves she could be a very good director, but Texas Killing Fields itself is too messy and frustrating to be really worthwhile.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac