The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Texas Killing Fields

I'm gonna be honest here. I was aware of this movie, even thought it looked pretty decent despite some middling reviews. I liked the cast and was curious what it would off. But then it sat there on Netflix glaring back at me for quite awhile. What changed my mind? I fell hard for HBO's True Detective -- still working my way through Season 1 -- and wanted to watch a gritty police procedural, hence our sitdown with 2011's Texas Killing Fields.

In Texas City, Texas, a darkness hangs in the air. Unsolved mysteries seem to plague the police department, dead bodies turning up far too often in the maze-like, trance-like bayous that surround the oil fields to the point the area is dubbed 'the Killing Fields.' Two detectives, Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), are called in to investigate when a dead body turns up, a teenage girl who may have had ties with drugs and prostitution. A former NYC cop, Heigh is still adjusting to a different style, a different way of investigating while Souder grew up learning the system. The clues don't seem to lead anywhere and everywhere at the same time. Heigh begins to suspect they may be dealing with a serial killer, but can the two detectives put it all together? When they receive a call from the killer as he executes a victim, their motivations become amped up even more.

This movie should have been better. There, I said it. 'Fields' comes from director Ami Canaan Mann -- daughter of Michael Mann -- and certainly has a lot of potential. The story is loosely based on a true story of the murders of many women along a stretch of road in Texas along the I-45 corridor. I really liked the style, the darkness, the sense of doom that hangs in the air. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh films a story that is uncomfortable, dark and eerie, like evil is hanging in the air, composer Dickon Hinchliffe's score aiding the cause in creating that ever so dark mood. The bayous just have something dark about them, these expansive yet claustrophobic fields holding all sorts of doom and evil. It doesn't have much of a positive outlook on life, evil waiting to descend on all of us. Hard to beat that in a police procedural where the detectives are pushed to their absolute limits to find the murderer.

With some obvious dark drama, the variation here is on the buddy cop flick (hold the laughs of course). I'm a fan of both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Sam Worthington so it was cool to see them paired up as two very different cops. Their differences, their dynamic works well. Morgan's Brian is the crusader, wanting to save everyone and anyone he can, becoming obsessed with the cases that cross his desk. Worthington's Mike similarly wants to solve each case, but he's also been worn down by the region he's worked in for so long. Murder is far from accepted, but there's also little surprise in this veteran cop when new bodies pop up. Their differing outlooks clash, their arguments fueling the case. Brian sees the potential that the newest victim is tied in with other unsolved murders. Mike simply wants to find the murderer as it impacts his jurisdiction. Two solid if unspectacular performances.

Because the case drama isn't enough, we need some personal drama. Mike's ex-wife and a detective from the state police is played by Jessica Chastain in a wasted part, the drama never really clicking. Chloe Grace Moretz is good as little Anne, a teenage girl who Brian keeps helping because her mother works as a prostitute at home. Jason Clarke, Stephen Graham, James Hebert and Jon Eyez play possible suspects in the case.

So style to burn, stock characters who are still interesting, what's missing? Simply put...the story. It's so convoluted that nothing ever clicks together. There's the one victim, then there's others, then there are others that may have been from other murderers. Who are we looking for? Are the killers those ones or these ones? Sure, I'm convinced that's what actual police and detective work is really like. Leads that don't go anywhere, leads and clues that are misleading, suspects who can't be convicted. It's all there. But in a 105-minute movie why pack all this in there? I was never quite sure what was going on, a huge red herring going absolutely nowhere. Realistic? Most likely. Good for the sake of the story? Nope. A disappointing end result.

Texas Killing Fields (2011): **/****

No comments:

Post a Comment