Monday, February 20, 2012

Texas Killing Fields

“Texas Killing Fields” is practical. It's effective. It hits the notes necessary. But in the end it's simply unsatisfying. “Texas Killing Fields” then, is like getting socks for Christmas. Or rather, it's like being disappointed by socks for Christmas.

On the surface, “Texas Killing Fields” is about two detectives, Mike (Sam Worthington) and Brian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) who solve murders in the depths of the rural Texas. Texas is a character in this film, make no doubt about it. The Texas presented in this movie is the kind of Texas that could find itself in a Jeff Foxworthy routine: Rust, dead trees, mud, sweat, missing teeth, and moonshine.

I really like the idea of Jeffery Dean Morgan and Sam Worthington on screen together, and the casting of the two actors in these specific roles deserves all the credit in the world. Morgan plays Brian as a Teddy Bear away from the picnic. He's a religious man from New York. This is mostly so characters can say the same two things in about a dozen ways. The first is “God has no place in the fields” and the second is “you don't understand Texas, you're a Yankee”. He's also taken Little Anne (Chloe Grace Moretz) under his wing, and it appears this is what he enjoys most about being a police officer: helping those in need.

Worthington is given a little less to work with, as his back-story is mostly implied. His Detective Mike is recently divorced from Detective Pamela Stall (Jessica Chastain) and grew up among the various...idiosyncrasies rural Texas has a habit of harboring, including a subtly implied history with local creepy yokels Rhino (Stephen Graham) and Eugene (James H├ębert).

All the roles are well acted, the characters who are supposed to be unsettling are, the heroes are heroes, and I cannot say enough about Jeffery Dean Morgan's uncanny ability to look like a wounded puppy even while holding a shotgun.

Then the plot happens. While “Texas Killing Fields” was in pre-production, 127 hours director Danny Boyle said that the film was far too dark of a drama to ever be produced. Yes. The guy who made the movie about the guy who cuts his arm off exclaimed that “Texas Killing Fields” was too dark and twisted for his tastes. This excited me immensely. I love my southern fried justice disturbed, twisted, and if possible, based on true events. So it's a shame that “Texas Killing Fields” is a bit of a cop-out plot wise, despite being based on some true events.

The plot, Mike and Brain are on the case of a serial killing tandem. And early on things are chilling, especially after Mike and Brian listen in on a 911 call in which a woman cries out for help as she's murdered. There's another early scene where Mike and Brian work quickly to preserve a dead body from an impending rain storm. Mike is eager to take the pictures, cover the body, and tip on out. Instead, Brian sits for a moment with the corpse and delivers last rites. Mike tries to get his attention, but stops after a half second, realizing that this ritual is important to Brian.

I wanted more of these moments in the film. Instead I can't remember very many moments at all. The things that affected me most were performances of actors in specific scenes. I can't relate to you the details of the plot or the sub textual nature of the script, because it went in one ear and out the other. It legitimately feels like Director Amy Mann was scared to dive into the depths of what a shattered human soul is capable of.

Take for example the arc of Brian. He's out of his element in Texas, and it shows throughout the movie. His hair becomes a little less combed, his facial hair a little more gruff, oh and he keeps getting hit in the head every few scenes, so he's bleeding and bruised a lot. On paper I love this idea. I love the idea of a cop on the edge, and it works especially well if the cop on the edge is a believable human being, which Brian is. However, this plot line is ruined by the ending of the film. After all the talk of religion and God, I was expecting him to Martyr himself for the cause, giving himself to the state that ruined him in exchange for the life of or lives of the innocent. 

I'm reminded about a half dozen movies that are way better than this one, and oddly almost all of them star Tommy Lee Jones. “No Country for Old Men”, “In the Valley of Ellah”, and “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrad” all come to mind as far better alternatives. These films are not afraid to rip your heart out and stamp on it to give you real consequence and real insight and a real window in a world that is often times so very different from the one we know. But instead, like Christmas socks, “Texas Killing Fields” ends up with a bow on it that no one really wanted.

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