Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle was originally on board to direct Don Ferrarone’s adaptation of the novel of the same name, based on real events that took place in Texas City, TX. Boyle eventually left the project, claiming the script was “so dark it would never get made”, but it was picked up by Michael Mann, who produces with his daughter, Ami Canaan Mann, in the director’s chair. Boyle was right about one thing, however, as the film is incredibly tough and dirty in its depiction of a savage wasteland in the heart of the US and a pair of cops living on the edge.
Sam Worthington has garnered plenty of flack in the past, mainly for the fact that he seemed to appear on the scene as a fully formed movie star, after Terminator: Salvation, Avatar and Clash of the Titans, before anyone really had a chance to decide if they liked him or not. What Worthington has shown in films like Last Night and again here is that with the right material he is more than capable of handling weighty drama and giving commendable performances.
Detective Mike Sounder grew up in this rundown area, populated by roughnecks and the poverty-stricken, where drugs, prostitution and murder are rampant. His estranged wife (Jessica Chastain) works in the next county and continually looks to Mike’s partner Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) for help. Brian, a former NYC cop wrestling with a streak of Catholic guilt, is struggling with his new surroundings and feels compelled to help a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) he sees wavering dangerously close to this world of vice.
When a dead body turns up on their watch, Brian and Mike are drawn into an on-going case of serial murders that has plagued the area since the 1970s. This gives director Ami Mann the perfect opportunity to scour the bayous and venture into the many dark corners of Texas City, and unearth a seemingly endless string of lowlifes and potential suspects. However, despite the film’s increasingly grimy and claustrophobic sense of dread and the uniformly fine performances, the pace is slow and events unfold in a largely predictable nature for anyone who has seen their fair share of police procedurals.
Where the film ultimately disappoints, however, is in its finale. During the tense climax, Ferrarone’s script offers up a great surprise that is not so much a twist as an unexpected sucker punch reminiscent of William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA. However, all this is undone by a final scene that reeks of last minute studio interference to avoid the very problem that Boyle cited in the first place. It ruins what could have been a wonderfully nihilistic conclusion, and sours much of the good will that the film had fought hard to achieve. Cop-out climax aside, however, Texas Killing Fields is a solid, if unspectacular, drama from an emerging female talent we should definitely watch in years to come.