‘Texas Killing Fields’ boasts a cast that makes you expect better than just a mediocre thriller that seems to revel in plot points that better films have already done before. This is rather frustrating, because a good serial killer thriller is hard to come by these days. I had hoped that this one would be a solid one, but it very much is not. It also has the distinction of likely being the low point of Jessica Chastain’s banner film year, quality wise. Director Ami Canaan Mann (yes, the daughter of Michael Mann) is workmanlike in her approach. She’s nothing like her father, at least yet. She doesn’t get anything of note from her actors, and that’s a real shame. The pieces were in place for something rather entertaining, but you don’t get that at all. It’s a competent crime movie overall, but it’s simply been done before…and better. That makes it such a chore to sit through. You don’t want mysteries to be boring and trite, but this one manages to be both.
Basing itself on a real group of unsolved murders that took place in a small Texas town, the film follows the attempts by two detectives to stop a serial killer from continuing to dump bodies in a marsh known as “The Killing Fields”. One detective is Mike Souder (Sam Worthington), a local, while the other is a transplanted New York City detective by the name of Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Souder’s ex wife Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain), is also a cop on the case. The murders are out of Heigh and Souder’s jurisdiction, but Heigh can’t keep out of it. When the killer catches wind of this, the situation changes a bit. The killer starts leaving clues, but the detectives just keep being a step or two behind. It gets even more personal when a local girl named Little Anne Sliger (Chloe Grace Moretz) goes missing. Now, it’s become personal. If it all sounds kind of rote and overdone, that’s because it is.
Everyone in this case is going through the motions. Sam Worthington struggles with a Texan accent, but he’s never been especially great before, so this is no surprise. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fine, but you can tell he’s a bit bored. The same goes for Chloe Grace Moretz (she seems to want the “Grace” added now, so I’ll oblige), who’s one of the best young actresses in the game but is wasted here. Jessica Chastain is wasted too, and the worst part is that she’s not even very memorable. The whole cast just floats along and leaves no mark. The supporting players include Jason Clarke and Stephen Graham, but they fare no better.
I think that Ami Canaan Mann might end up being a decent director, but here she wastes any opportunity for suspense and really doesn’t seem to have an identity yet behind the camera. I’m not ready to write Mann off yet, but she’ll have to step up her game next time around. This could have easily just been a really long pilot episode for a new ‘CSI’ or something. Maybe even ‘CSI: Texas’ might have been an improvement. It doesn’t help that the script by Don Ferrarone is boring and uninterested in being different in any way at all. There are no surprises in this flick, and I think it actually believes that it’s one of those movies that keeps you guessing. Alas…
In the end, ‘Texas Killing Fields’ is the type of mediocrity you usually see from Hollywood, not the independent world. One struggles to see what was appealing about this incredibly average police procedural. It’s a crime story in which you rarely care about the crime or anything else that’s occurring for that matter. I wasn’t expecting much going in, but I was still disappointed. The only reason to see this is if you’re determined to see all of Jessica Chastain’s work this year. Otherwise, you can really do better.
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