' ' Cinema Romantico: Texas Killing Fields

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Texas Killing Fields

With atmosphere to burn and spectacular - which is to say, spectacularly rough hewn - locations, the surface of Ami Canaan Mann's "Texas Killing Fields" (just released on DVD) glitters like gold. Ah, but everything that glitters isn't always......you know how that goes. I don't mean to employ a pitiful cliche. Well, actually I do. Despite being based, disturbingly, on actual events, the core of the film is incredibly cliched, a police procedural with two detectives - one a family man and one a hothead who used to be (spoiler alert!) married to the sassy female detective outside of their jurisdiction - investigating a killing spree in which female bodies are being dumped in the spooky no-man's-land of the bayous outside Texas City.

Now cliches, as opposed to the cliche often circulated about cliches, aren't always bad things. Cliches can be employed as short-hand weapons, quickly providing the audience its bearings to then allow for stylized storytelling to swoop in and save the day. The storytelling in "Texas Killing Fields", though, isn't as much convoluted as it is jumbled - details tossed into a stew pot and never stirred - and stunningly uninteresting. No weight is given to anyone's circumstance. Chloe Grace Moretz's Little Anne, wasting away in an abusive household, looked after by our two detectives, Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Sounder (Sam Worthington), is meant to be our emotional entry point but this whole storyline is under-written and left to waste away amidst all the intense but empty visuals.

Certain individual scenes are well-handled, such as a home invasion that is not filmed with the usual music cues and peering around corners to see no one only to have someone sneak up from behind. Instead it is abrasive, violent and silent apart from the sounds of the struggle. And Mann seems to have a noble intent to present the Killing Fields as not so much a lawless frontier as a desolate place that everyone and everything - including even God Himself - have forgotten and/or abandoned. If she could have got the film to that point it might have been something special. But she doesn't. Instead her film devolves into a climactic fight between cop and bad guys filmed in such utter darkness the audience is hard pressed to see what the hell is going on and that devolves into a shootout and then an off key happy ending. Things play out mostly as expected but without any sense of Tragic Inevitability.

What does Brian Cox's version of Robert McKee say to Nic Cage's version of Charlie Kaufman? Ah yes. "That's not a movie. You have to go back in and add the drama."


Anonymous said...

I quite like the lead actors, but the plot of this movie just doesn't interest me at all. Seems like I haven't been interested in any of Sam W's offerings since The Debt. He looks so ridiculous in the Clash of the Titans sequel poster, too!

Nick Prigge said...

Sam Worthington is this was just so.....(shrugging my shoulders). Jessica Chastain had a little fire at least but she didn't have much to do.