Title: Texas Killing Fields

Directed By Ami Canaan Mann

Written By: Don Ferrarone

Cast: Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloë Grace Moretz, Stephen Graham

Screened at: Review, NYC, 9/26/11

Opens: October 14, 2011

When you listen to Governor Rick Perry on the campaign stump for the presidential nomination, you may get the impression that Texas and New York are two separate countries. On Perry’s watch, 235 people have been executed. In New York, nobody. Now comes this freshman directing effort by Ami Canaan Mann, “Texas Killing Fields,” and we’re surer than before that Texas and New York are separate countries-which may explain how the former is a red state and New York goes blue. In this vision of the Lone Star State, cops break into garages without search warrants, beat suspects to a pulp, and shoot wildly. In fairness, however, the folks in Mann’s movie are rural white trash, and therefore should not really be compared to those of us here in the Big Apple as we are all sophisticated fans of ACLU.

The film itself is not something that would separate it from the plethora of crime shows on TV, e.g. CSI, Law and Order, Bones. That more than any other factor is why it would have deserved proper consideration if indeed it were on the tube, though the 35mm projection does work better on the big screen than on a TV monitor even in the costly large sizes.

The film, which played at the Venice Festival (surprisingly) features a pair of detectives who are stereotypically mismatched partners. Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a transplant from New York to Texas City, TX in the southern part of the state, having left NY because of some unexplained botched project. He is still getting the lay of the land, and has an almost religious conviction to go beyond the call of duty, even outside his jurisdiction to solve a series of ghastly serial killings. By contrast, good-ol’-boy Mike (Sam Worthington) doesn’t look for trouble, regularly reminding his obsessed partner that they should stay where they have legal authority, in Texas City itself and not in the killing fields where scores of bodies had been located.

Among the people in the city proper is a group of most African-Americans, some having worked as hookers, one of whom calls the white cop “Detective Cracker.” Brian pays attention to 15-year-old Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz) who at one point is thrown out of her dilapidated home by her addicted mom, Lucie (Sheryl Lee), who lives with a seedy boyfriend and his partner.

As the partners come closer to solving the latest murders, the violence picks up—a generic though impressive car chase, a murder of a partner by one construction worker for no good reason, and most of all a series of intense beatings delivered against the sleazy guys by both Brian and Mike’s ex-wife, Detective Pam (Jessica Chastain), who has the unenviable task of working with her ex and seems determined to show herself as the more brutal cop.

The picture was filmed in Louisiana with Dickon Hinchliffe’s music adding to the suspense. This is a competent film but simply not one that proves much more distinctive than current TV fare.

Rated R. 105 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Story – C-

Acting – C+

Technical – B

Overall – C

The Texas Killing Fields

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