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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Texas Killing Fields

February 12th, 2012

Texas Killing Fields - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray or Video on Demand

Texas Killing Fields had quite a bit of buzz going into its release, at least compared to most limited releases. It was only the second film directed by Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, who acted as the producer for this film. It has a cast that most limited releases couldn't hope to dream of. It stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is best known for his part in Supernatural, as well as Watchmen and other TV shows and movies; Sam Worthington, who starred in Avatar, the biggest movie of all time; Jessica Chastain, who was earning Oscar buzz from her performances in Tree of Life and The Help and recently earned an Oscar nomination for the latter; and Chloë Grace Moretz, who despite being just 14 years old, has proven she can more than hold her own against actors who have been in the business for much longer than she's been alive. That said, the film struggled during its opening and disappeared just a few weeks later. Does it deserve to find an audience on the home market?

The Movie

The film takes place in a small town called Texas City in Texas, which wouldn't be a noteworthy place, except for a nearby jurisdictional anomally. Just outside of the town, there is a swampy, desolate area that has been giving the charming name, the killing fields. If someone disappears in the local area, chances are, if their body is found, it will be found there. But because the place is a swamp and none of the local cops have jurisdiction, most likely it will never be found.

The film begins with two cops, Brian Heigh and Mike Sounder, being called to the scene of a murder. The body of a young lady was dumped in a quiet neighborhood. That same night, Brian gets a call from Detective Pam Stall, a cop from a neighboring jurisdiction. She has a missing person's case and wants help from Brian, but Mike, Brian's partner and Pam's ex-husband wants none of that. Brian does explain that if he does help her, he will have to deal with the higher-ups complaining about using resources for an investigation in another jurisdiction. However, he will help her if she has more to go on. It doesn't take too long before she finds the victim's car, and it is no surprise where she finds it.

Meanwhile, we also meet Anne Sliger, neglected daughter of Lucie Sliger, a local prostitute. While Brian and Mike continue to investigate their killing (which quickly moves from an isolated incident involving a teenage runaway to a serial killer) Brian tries to keep an eye on Anne. At first it seems like the right thing to do, but when the serial killer decides to make things personal with Brian and Mike, he targets Anne as his next victim.

I'm of two minds with regards to this movie. On the one hand, the film does have a lot of excellent performances by most of the cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan hits the right notes as a New York cop who is dealing with too many unsolved murders. Sam Worthington doesn't deliver as strong a performance, but he's better here than most other films I've seen him in. Jessica Chastain again proves she can elevate any movie she's in and she's quickly become an actress that can make a movie of interest to me, just by signing on to play a part. Meanwhile, Chloë Grace Moretz can play any role given to her. She has already put together an impressive resume of diverse and interesting projects, and while this is not one of her best films, she stands out as one of the best parts. There are also good parts to the police procedural part of the story and some stylish directorial choices.

On the other hand, the overall plot is simply not developed enough to hold your attention for a full 105 minutes. There are pacing issues in this movie, to be generous, and between the interesting developments in the cases, there's a lot of nothing. There are a few too many red herrings thrown in, too many characters brought into the film and then discarded, and action scene that seems a little out of place. It doesn't build a compelling mystery, but instead comes across more confused. It's like the filmmakers didn't quite know what to do with the script. Additionally, there were more than a few elements that felt borrowed from better films.

The end result is a movie that wastes a lot of good performances on a story that misses the mark too often, but it's not a total loss.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD or the Blu-ray is an audio commentary track (which you find in the Set Up menu). The director, Ami Canaan Mann, and the screenwriter, Donald F. Ferrarone, sit down for this one. It's pretty lowkey and there are some dead spaces here and there, but they also offer some insight into the movie.

I don't have the Blu-ray, so I can't judge its audio or video quality. That said, the Blu-ray cost just $3 or less than 20% more than the DVD, which is a good deal.

The Verdict

Texas Killing Fields could have been a really good movie considering the performances from the main cast, but its below average script holds it back. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, so if you are interested, maybe rent it Video on Demand instead of buying it. If you are interested in buying, the Blu-ray is a reasonable price.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Help, Texas Killing Fields