Thursday, March 01, 2012

No Way Out

Subpar editing and sound mar this second feature by Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of director Michael Mann of HEAT and THIEF fame, who served as producer here. TEXAS KILLING FIELDS barely squeaked into a few theaters in the fall of 2011—no doubt on the strength of producer Mann’s name—but without a cast of movie stars to carry the load of Don Ferrarone’s routine script, box office was dim.

Louisiana plays Texas City, Texas, where cops still use cassette tapes to record interrogations. Sensitive homicide detective Brian Haigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, THE RESIDENT) and his younger, brasher partner Mike Souder (AVATAR’s Sam Worthington) consider the murder of a teenage prostitute. A similar case pops up one county over, where Mike’s ex-wife Pam (Jessica Chastain, an Academy Award nominee for THE HELP) leads the investigation. Although it’s outside his and Mike’s jurisdiction, Brian can’t help looking into the case at Pam’s request, since both murders appear to be related.

It becomes clear the cops are after a serial killer who uses a remote bayou dubbed “The Killing Fields” by the locals to dump his victims. At times, TEXAS KILLING FIELDS resembles a straight procedural in CSI mode, and if Mann and Farrarone had stayed in that direction, it might have been a more successful film. However, Mann takes a lot of time away from the investigation to follow Anne (KICK-ASS’ Chloe Grace Moretz), the young daughter of a trashy mother (Sheryl Lee of TWIN PEAKS) who banishes her to walk the streets until her many “boyfriends” have gone home.

Moretz is quite good, as are Morgan and Chastain, but Haigh’s paternal relationship with Anne isn’t as interesting as Mann thinks it is. Following the mystery is tough because of Cindy Mollo’s editing, which often renders some scenes too long, others not long enough, and many out of order. Similarly, the recording of the actors’ slurry accents is unclear, which sometimes makes following plot points difficult. A third-act car chase is well handled. Jon Eyez, Jason Clarke (THE CHICAGO CODE), Stephen Graham (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY), and Annabeth Gish (NIXON) add able support.

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