Texas Killing Fields is filled with dark mood and tension, but fizzles out at the end rather than boiling over. The film manages to maintain the audience’s attention from start to finish, but doesn’t go far enough to make all the slow building worth the wait.
Directed by Ami Canaan Mann (daughter of director Michael Mann who also served as a producer on the film) and written by Don Ferrarone, the film stars Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sheryl Lee, Annabeth Gish, Stephen Graham and Jason Clarke.
The film follows police detectives Mike Souder (Worthington), Brian Heigh (Morgan), and Pam Stall (Chastain) as they investigate a killing and a disappearance in League City and Texas City, Texas. Mike and Pam are divorced and he isn't too keen on his ex-wife involving his partner Brian (who is from New York City) on her missing person investigation.
Despite Mike's protest, Brian helps Pam due to his dislike of the I-45 corridor around the oil fields that have come to be known as the killing fields due to the women who have been found murdered in the location or gone missing in the fields.
In addition to his investigations, Brian also interjects himself into the life of Little Anne Sliger (Moretz) - a young girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has a junkie for a mother who also moonlights as a prostitute. Anne is left on her own most of the time, and her home life isn’t much better as Brian and Mike bust up a group of men waiting to spend time with her mother – including a man known as Rhino (Graham).
The film divides up the three main storylines as Mike works on discovering who killed a young girl who was working as a prostitute, Brian and Pam work on finding a missing woman, and Brian gets more attached to Anne.
It moves at a slow pace that builds lots of tension and makes the most of its gritty Texas location. Mike states several times that the fields are a dreadful place filled with evil. If a girl goes missing in the fields, there is no reason to look for her because she is already dead. It is a killer’s playground and there is very little chance of the two detectives solving the murders.
In addition to the missing girl, Mike and Brian go head to head with two pimps who might have more to do with their dead girl, and also seem to be stalking Anne.
Things take a personal turn when the killer starts calling the detectives on the missing girl’s phone, and even kills a girl while the detectives are listening. This enrages both detectives (who have two very different styles of police work) and pushes both men to the very edge by the time the movie ends.
I really wanted to love Texas Killing Fields and on some levels the film is extremely good. Mann is an extremely talented director and makes the most of the Texas setting to build the tension and suspense of the film. Everything feels gritty, dirty and real.
The killer (trying to stay as spoiler free as possible) is creepy, and there is an extremely disturbing home invasion scene where the killer attempts to attack a woman in her home as her small children watch and she is on the phone calling for help.
However, the movie fails on several levels due to some choppy editing that makes parts of it hard to follow; an ending that feels very rushed; and Worthington trying a little too hard to do a Texas accent.
The actor (along with the rest of the cast) is good in the film, but his attempt at a Texas accent makes his lines extremely difficult to understand. While it doesn’t kill the suspense of the film, it did take me out of the movie as I was constantly backing it up to try and understand what he said.
On Blu-ray, the film looks incredible matching the dark aspects of the story with a gritty feel to the location shooting and production values. Sadly, it is extremely light on special features consisting of just audio commentary from Mann and Ferrarone. Given the story is based on real murders and the two main detectives are based on actual investigators, I would have liked a bit of behind the scenes look at the film or its setting.
Texas Killing Fields is a dark thriller that does several things right and will stay with you after you watch it. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a few minor problems that keep it from being great, and makes the final payoff not worth all the slow tension that the movie builds.
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