Texas Killing Fields hits the theaters carrying quite a bit of excess baggage, and it’s not just that split personality docudrama dilemma afflicting the simultaneous negotiation of fact and fiction in a movie. The ‘inspired by true events’ crime thriller delving into the dumping of over fifty female mutilation and murder victims along a stretch of rural Texas highway over the course of four decades, has so many plot points on its plate that the audience may be left feeling as weary and perplexed as the homicide detectives in question.
Not that the frustrated gumshoes in this dingy backwater burb lack for unexpected style and attitude. Counting screen celebs Jessica Chastain, Avatar and Clash of the Titans’ Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the frustrated trio of multiple serial killer trackers. Along with recent Kick-Ass kid phenomenon Chloe Grace Moretz, who is mostly assigned to wander about as a troubled and abused teen waif, apparently not at all concerned about homicidal stalkers on the loose.
Worthington is Mike, recently divorced from fellow detective Pam (Chastain). And though the estranged pair may have experienced unexplained but clearly unaddressed compatibility issues, they do share a tendency towards anger mismanagement police brutality impulses that never seem to be questioned. But while they pummel designated villains, devout NYPD transplant Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) favors prayer.
And as discarded bodies pile up around a marsh along the deserted highway, so do assorted prime suspects as well as accessories to unrelated crimes. At the same time the perpetrator, whoever it may be, begins to stalk and taunt the task force, phoning in the screams for help from kidnappings and murders in progress. And while Mike and Pam continue to bicker publicly during stakeouts, the more level-headed and introspective Brian takes repeat runaway Ann (Moretz) to his home for her own safety and wellbeing – another questionable off the books move which is never questioned. Rather than say, calling in the local child protection authorities. But hey, Brian may have just fallen under the spell of the regional axiom – Don’t mess with Texas.
The actual official inquiries into these mostly unsolved murders – as experienced by DEA investigator for real Don Ferrarone who turned his findings into the Texas Killing Fields screenplay – may have earned high marks as a police report. But evaluation as a movie, helmed by Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of the movie’s executive producer, famed director Michael Mann, is a different matter. Though the lush, gothic visuals established by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (Boardwalk Empire) more than set the gloomy, hyper-haunting mood, the story proceeds in too many directions and detours.
Which concludes with Texas Killing Fields wrapping up as a series of dramatic impressions rather than a fully grasped, cohesive story, however artistically crafted. Not unlike the unfortunate cold cases lining that tragic highway.
Anchor Bay Films
2 1/2 stars