Review: ‘Texas Killing Fields’

There’s an annoying theory out there that suggests movie critics actually want to hate movies. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. While, yes, it’s occasionally liberating to write a review that’s simply negative, and not have to waffle back and forth about whether strong performances balance out shoddy pacing and so on, picture this: if your job was to watch movies every single day, wouldn’t you want them to be good?

But I was at an interesting place when I went to see Texas Killing Fields. I had just come off almost two months of mostly-positive reviews in a row, and I was beginning to wonder if I could even recognize a bad movie when I saw one. It’s like you’re taking the SATs and you suddenly realize that your last ten answers were all “C.” Sure, it’s technically possible, but you can’t shake the feeling that you’re doing something wrong.

So in a perverse way it was mildly satisfying to watch a movie that was simply… pretty bad. Not that Texas Killing Fields enrages me, but then that’s a big part of the problem. It failed to elicit a single, palpable emotional reaction throughout the entire running time thanks to muddled plotting, leisurely pacing and disappointing performances from actors trying to elevate material that is clearly beneath them. Texas Killing Fields is dramatically out to lunch.


The story is about two homicide detectives played by The Watchmen’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Avatar’s Sam Worthington. They’ve got – get this – a homicide on their hands, and Morgan suspects it’s the work of a serial killer. But the other victims were found outside of their jurisdiction, making it difficult to pursue the case. Worthington’s ex-wife, played by Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain, is a detective in another district whose own case may be related, so occasionally they have to work together for a scene or two. But mostly Morgan tries to pull together the loose ends while Worthington tracks down a bad guy with “red herring” practically tattooed to his forehead, and poor Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame toddles throughout the film for no other reason than to be victimized in the third act.

The plot of Texas Killing Fields would be pretty thin for a Law & Order episode, and it isn’t aided by confusing storytelling. There’s a scene in which Morgan goes a little Rodney King on some uncooperative witnesses, forcing Worthington to give him a speech about his dangerous behavior. At one point Worthington says something to the effect of, “Do you even know where you are?” And that’s when I realized that I had no idea where they were. I was never sure where the heck anything was in relation to the other locations in the film, which is odd for a movie in which geography is an important plot point. Late in Texas Killing Fields Morgan scours the Texas killing fields that lend the movie their name, in which all of the bodies were discovered. But nobody, apparently, ever thought to actually search the place for clues. Morgan ends up finding an orgy of evidence within walking distance of every corpse, weeks and possibly even months after the fact. Aren’t there procedures for this kind of thing?

Texas Killing Fields was directed by Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, and a director who probably has better films in her than this one. But she isn’t aided by a story that plays a lot like… Well, a Michael Mann movie. It seems impolite to bring it up, but the parallels between Texas Killing Fields and the cinematic oeuvre of a director who makes cops and robbers movies better than anyone else are hard to miss, and this movie doesn’t come close to that standard. Hell, when placed side-by-side with any quality cop movie Texas Killing Fields falls remarkably short. It’s a plodding, confusing film with decent performances that are undone by a tepid screenplay riddled with plot holes and dangling threads. (That red herring? Never even resolved. I know it’s a red herring but at least tell us what happens to the guy.) These fields are just plain barren.




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