Texas Killing Fields
The public’s infatuation with serial killers is a phenomenon that is not likely to diminish in the foreseeable future. Perhaps it’s the fact that these habitual murderers are so foreign to the perception of the normal, law abiding citizen that it generates a certain morbid fascination. In our modern civilization the serial killer is the closest thing to pure evil incarnate that we are likely to hear about. Most would agree that a person capable of planning, stalking and executing one human being after another is a real life monster and audiences have been clamoring for monster stories since man first swapped stories around the cave’s fire. It should come as no surprise that they have been a staple of literature, television and film for a long time. ‘Texas Killing Fields’ is a flick that attempts to exploit this sensationalistic trend providing mixed results. Although there are some very interesting aspects that do added to the enjoyment of the movie. While this is an honest attempt to make the best possible film under the circumstances the bottom line is that it falls short of the established goals of the genre. Albeit, this is a difficult type of movie for a filmmaker to distinguish himself; not only is it a type of film that is crowded with fine representation of solid movies including films that have been honored as being among cinema has to offer. Sure, it is not in the same league as ‘Silence of the Lambs’ but few films of any type can aspire to rise to that level of expert construction. What you do get is a solid enough film in the ‘friends over, beer and pizza flick’. The movie does have an exceptional cast and the filmmaker, Ami Canaan Mann, is making her feature film sophomore effort here but this work demonstrates both an interesting approach to the topic and a perspective not commonly seen in a thriller of this type. Judging by this freshman opus she is on the verge of becoming part of the new breed of women directors poised to alter the art of cinema. I have a great deal of anticipation with the prospect of watching her career unfold. It is sure to be significant.
Ms Mann’s craftsmanship is evident from the very first shot. Instead of the hackney ploy of diving into the killings or a rush to depict the mayhem Mann takes the time to build the emotional environment she is after. The isolation and eerie beauty of the area is shown with the effortless flight of a bird of prey gliding over the remote location. The sight of an abandoned car is the only evidence of man’s intrusion. We see the driver’s license of a pretty young woman left behind indicating here is a predator more deadly than the one circling above but just as at ease with the act of hunting. At the risk of sounding sexist my experience indicates that a feminine sensibility depicted here is superior to the overt imagery most male directors employ. This difference in the gender bias extends to a greater emotional commitment woven into the fabric of the film. I’m not really all that surprise since the director is the daughter of Michael Mann who reinvented the crime genre with television shows like "Miami Vice’ and ‘Crime Story’ and films like ‘Manhunter’, the first screen appearance of Hannibal Lector. This is also the first script for Don Ferrarone who is moving up from ‘Making of’ featurettes to a tightly written screenplay. He is a former DEA agent who served as a technical advisor on’ Miami Vice’ so he has more experience than most screen writers in this arena. These teams of first timers pull off something that will be a rewarding surprise.
There are elements of the buddy cop flick inserted into the story. Rather than go down the hackney road of the lone wolf, rebellious detectives we get a pair of investigators here; Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and his partner Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Their working dynamic is a familiar one that serves as the foundation for the police procedural thriller. Morgan has moved from New York City to join the Teas City police force. He is the sensitive on who takes the time to pray over s victim an keep a map women reported missing in that part of the state. In contrast Souder has what you might call anger control issues. This predilection is exacerbated by his ex-wife, Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain), working as a detective in a neighboring jurisdiction who is tackling a case of this nature. The emotional investment afforded to the protagonists extends nicely to the young victim, Anne Sliger (Chloë Grace Moretz). She is the type of delinquent in training who knows the local police better than one of that age should but has enough common sense not to go out of her way to alienate them. Responsibility for her plight is greatly medicated by her home life; the daughter of the town prostitute Lucie (Sheryl Lee). Moretz is one young actress to watch, so far in her career she has portrayed a near psychopathic costumed crime fighter and a blood thirsty vampire. Her talent is far beyond most many times her age. Here she plays Annie as a girl almost numb from being bounced around unwanted all of her life. The emotional depth and veracity of her performance helps to make this film remarkable.
The part of the genome responsible for creating visually innovative film must reside on the ‘X’ chromosome since this new generation of Mann directors clearly exhibits the trait. Ami Mann working with Academy Award nominated cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh has created a movie of exceptional visual complexity. I was so caught up in the visual aspect I had to watch the film again to appreciate the nuances of the story being told. The juxtaposition of imagery used here is innovative and worthy of more praise than most seem to afford this film. This is a movie that will hold your attention but consider this; your appreciation will grow with subsequent viewings.