Texas Killing Fields (2011)
By: Stuart Giesel on March 23, 2012  | 
DVD
Roadshow | Region B | 2.35:1 (1080p) | English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | 105 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Ami Canaan Mann
Starring: Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jessica Chastain
Screenplay: Don Ferrarone
Country: USA
External Links
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Texas Killing Fields probably sounded good on paper, and even in production the solid cast and behind-the-scenes pedigree might have suggested a half-decent crime flick from first-time director Ami Canaan Mann, if not exactly in the same class as her father Michael Mann's Heat (but then again, what is?) then at least better than your bog-standard CSI episode. But, guess what? Texas Killing Fields, despite a good cast and some nice cinematography, feels like a generic made-for-TV crime story, and we're definitely not talking HBO here.

Detective Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and surly partner Mike Souder (Sam Worthington, in I-Am-Sam-Worthington-Playing-Sam-Worthington mode) are following the trail of a serial killer who's leaving bodies not only within their jurisdiction, but in the "killing fields" of the title, apparently some sort of horrible dumping ground for drug and mafia deals gone bad and, I guess, just for people you don't like very much. A young girl named Ann Sliger (Chloe Grace Moretz) who spends more time on the streets than at home with her whore of a mother befriends Heigh and - surprise! - becomes one of the latest victims. Oh, and Jessica Chastain, in her eighty-seventh movie of 2011, shows up as another detective and ex-wife of Souder.

And that's really about it. For a relatively brief 104 minutes, we're given snippets of information here and there about the killings and hints at the backgrounds of the detectives and the generally terrible life of little Annie and...well, not much else. And this is Texas Killing Fields' biggest problem. It feels incomplete, as if the original script had been twice the length and been brutally pared down prior to shooting, or that someone in the editing suite thought that a three-hour crime epic could never be screened in front of today's ADD-infected viewing public. When it comes down to it, I suppose the plot's not exactly that complicated, but Texas Killing Fields really could have used some more meat on its bones. The opening scenes are nicely ominous, and beautifully set the stage for what's to come, but unfortunately the rest of it is a by-the-numbers police story.

The cast is pretty good. Worthington and Morgan aren't exactly given much to work with, even though there is some promise with how Morgan's character's religious leanings might affect his work but, nope, that's soon jettisoned in favour of more aimless crud. The lovely Jessica Chastain has very little to do except occasionally act tough and think about how many more of these sorts of films she has to do before she hits the big time. Probably the stand-out is Chloe Grace Moretz, but even her character is underdeveloped. It's not the fault of the actors, they've all done better work elsewhere, and Mann's direction and the general look of the film are all fine, so the problem comes back to the script. Even in its resolution, the whole thing doesn't really make a lot of sense, and you suspect someone's taken the knife to the script along the way. I'm not familiar with the crimes that the film was 'inspired by', so perhaps Killing Fields has been somewhat hamstrung by basing its story on real events. It's hard to say. What I can say is that there are precious few moments that truly work on the screen - a key moment where Morgan and Chastain try to drag a body to cover to preserve evidence from the rain is both tense and feels frustratingly real. It's just a shame there weren't more of these sorts of moments.

Ultimately, Texas Killing Fields should have gone for one of two ways rather than taking the bland middle-road: become a grand, meticulous crime epic in the vein of Heat or Zodiac, detailing the minutae of the detectives' work and their obsession with capturing the killers, or a gritty, bleak, violent tale of crime and redemption like Se7en or No Country For Old Men. Unfortunately it's neither, perfectly content to slump in a miasmic haze of mediocrity.
Video
Texas Killing Fields looks quite sharp on Blu-Ray, particularly in the menacing scenes showing off the hellhole of the title. This is a fairly drab film overall, and I mean that in a good way considering the material, and the quality of the video shines through in even the littlest details. It's not reference quality, but it's a strong transfer.
Audio
Whilst not exactly a thundering, ear-rattling soundtrack, Texas Killing Fields sounds perfectly acceptable in a home cinema environment, with some very nice ambient noises throughout like the persistent chattering of crickets.
Extra Features
Absolutely nothing. I double-checked to see if there was a second disc I'd inadvertently dropped. No. Oh dear. Seriously, this has nothing, unless you count having a menu and scene selections extras.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Decidedly average, which is a disappointment considering the cast and crew. Texas Killing Fields feels incomplete, as if it had been butchered along the way to make it more palatable to modern audiences, which is a shame considering the strength of certain scenes and a general atmosphere of menace. The disc is completely barren features-wise, but it's a strong looking and sounding Blu-Ray. Whilst not exactly a waste of time, it's hard to get worked up over Texas Killing Fields when it feels like your everyday police thriller that should be starring William Peterson and periodically interrupted by ads for fried chicken and diet shakes.

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