Tuesday, 16 August 2016
Movie Review: Texas Killing Fields (2011)
In Texas City, the body of a brutally murdered young woman is discovered. Detectives Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) start to investigate. Meanwhile Detective Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain) is responsible for the surrounding rural area, notorious for the high number of murdered and missing women dating back to the 1970s. Pam also has a missing woman case on her hands and calls for help from Brian and Mike, the latter being her former husband.
Complicating life for the detectives is concern for Anne Sliger (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young teenager living with her white trash single mother Lucie (Sheryl Lee) and older brother Eugene (James Hebert). Lucie is a local whore of sorts, and the menacing Rhino (Stephen Graham) appears to move into her house to help himself to a piece of her action.
Mike wants to focus his effort on the Texas City murder, while Brian, a deeply religious man, is more inclined to widen the investigation to help Pam and include the surrounding swampy fields. Mike zeroes in on pimps Levon (Jon Eyez) and Rule (Jason Clarke) as potentially involved in murder, while Brian enlists the services of a phone company contact to try and triangulate the origins of cell phone calls linked to the murders. The detectives soon find themselves being taunted and drawn into a deadly game with the mysterious killer.
The film is written by Don Ferrarone and it does appear that in trying to create a dramatic fictional narrative, the enormity of the real life agonies and tragedies of the Texas Killing Fields along Interstate 45 overwhelmed the writing. The resultant tone is simply off. Somehow, the most important debate presented in the film is whether Mike and Brian should or should not help Pam, who is outside their jurisdiction. On multiple occasions Mike berates Brian for venturing into the hinterlands instead of sticking close to home. With everything going on, it's a stupefying issue to repeatedly waste screen time on.
Meanwhile, we learn precious little about Mike, Brian and Pam, except that they are grim faced, dour and fairly snappy with each other. The ashes of the relationship between Mike and Pam just scatter in the wind, serving no purpose. Similarly Brian's religious fervor is introduced and forgotten.
With Worthington, Morgan and Chastain stuck in angry detective mode, it is left to Chloë Grace Moretz and Sheryl Lee to deliver the most affecting performances in relatively small roles. Moretz is steady, her vulnerability representing potential victims who come from hopelessly broken homes. Lee is the stand-out performer as Lucie, a woman so far gone into desperation that she routinely kicks her daughter out of the house to better serve her sleazy clients.
Despite earnest intentions and no shortage of talent, Texas Killing Fields is messier than grasslands trampled by an unruly herd, and a regrettably wasted opportunity.
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