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Case Number 23202: Small Claims Court

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Texas Killing Fields

Anchor Bay // 2011 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // January 26th, 2012

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker watches Hollywood Squares reruns just to see Texas Totie Fields.

Editor's Note

Our review of Texas Killing Fields (Blu-ray), published January 19th, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

No one is safe.

The Case

Texas Killing Fields is such a jumble of plot threads and genre tropes it's hard to really make sense of it all. It's not a particularly complicated film or too complex to follow; it's just that there are so many things tossed, seemingly randomly, into the story that don't pay off that you come away feeling more frustrated than enlightened or entertained.

The film is inspired by actual events: Over the course of 30 or so years, nearly three dozen young women were abducted from a highway in Texas, killed, and left in a nearby field—thus, the Killing Fields. The murders remain unsolved.

Director Ami Canaan Mann and writer Don Ferrarone use this bit of history as the backdrop for their story—which is the first of many problems here. The real-life Killing Fields murders are referenced as some kind of local lore, but they really have nothing to do with what's going on in the film; most of the players here weren't even born when the earlier killings took place. By invoking the Killing Field as though it's some sort of brand and sporadically referencing it, the actual story—the search for a contemporary killer—loses focus.

Detectives Mike Souder (Sam Worthington, Avatar) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Resident) are on the hunt for a killer in rural Texas. Clues pile up, herrings turn red, suspects flow like tap water, and the killer starts playing "gotcha!" with the cops by doing things like calling them during a murder.

OK, this is pretty much the template for a standard, potentially effective, police procedural/thriller. But Texas Killing Fields just lards too much extraneous stuff onto this simple structure. The detectives are working out of their jurisdiction at the behest of another detective—Pam (Jessica Chastain, The Help)—who is Mike's ex-wife. Mike has anger issues. Brian is a transplant from New York who's religious and worried about failing people, and who is trying to help a troubled teen-age girl from a horrible white-trash family. Mike goes after one set of suspects, Brian tries to follow a different set of clues, and the locals are afraid of the fields because of the past killings, and there are a couple of chases, and an attack, and victims, and…

And if Mann and Ferrarone had hired a script editor to help shape this ungainly thing into something cohesive, we might have had a neat little crime drama. Maybe if Mann had asked her famous father, director Michael Mann (Heat, Manhunter), for some tips on keeping the action moving, we might have had a tight little thriller. Instead, Texas Killing Fields just lumbers along to a resolution so inorganic and misguided, it seems like it was pulled from another script. The actors are fine, given what they have to work with, but competent performances can't save Texas Killing Fields from mediocrity.

The disc from Anchor Bay sports a perfectly fine transfer and Dolby surround track. Besides a trailer, we get a commentary from Mann and Ferrarone.

The Verdict

A potentially interesting concept gets lost in poor execution.

Texas Killing Fields could have gone the way of David Fincher's Zodiac in its exploration of a true-life unsolved series of crimes; instead, it's like a convoluted basic-cable thriller.


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Crime
• Drama
• Historical
• Mystery
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Trailer


• IMDb
• Official Site

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