Most murder mystery films, about police detectives hunting a killer, would be much better as television shows. Two hours, even if you make your film pacy and straight-forward, will never really be enough to develop your heroes, giving them compelling backstorys, present enough suspects to make the murder mystery interesting and also throw-up red herrings to keep the audience on their toes. A tv show offers you this opportunity and although there are far too many detective shows on tv, a film will always struggle to have the same positive effect.
It’s exactly this problem that Texas Killing Fields has. It has a running time of just over 90 minutes, which means it has to choose what it wants to develop and skimp on other aspects. The choice is with the detectives, developing their pasts to make the drama much more about them than the actual case they are solving.
It means we get a detailed look at the private lives of both Brain played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Mike played by Sam Worthington. This isn’t a bad idea when you have two fantastic actors at your disposal. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. He is great in Watchmen and has presented himself as an actor you can rely on to produce a solid and sometimes brilliant performance. In Texas Killing Field, he is no different, playing the weathered, religious and dedicated detective very well.
Sam Worthington seems to have fallen out of favour with Hollywood at the moment but films like Texas Killing Fields are the movies he should be making. This is a much more intense, solid performance than he was ever going to have the opportunity to show in Terminator: Salvation or Avatar.
Choosing to develop the detectives is a great idea and gives our two leads great opportunity to shine, but it means the actual case they are investigating suffers. There never seems to be any real direction or sense with how the case is progressing. There are attempts at red herrings that become more confusing than misleading and it feels more like you are waiting for the case to be solved rather than trying to solve it yourself as an audience member.
When the murderer is actually revealed, it lacks any real punch or impact. A good detective thriller will develop motive, leave clues and have the revelation of the character be equally shocking but also make sense, with real motivation and direction. Texas Killing Fields reveals the killer and although there is a sense of shock, it’s not necessarily for the right reasons. There is never a sense that we could have worked it out for ourselves.
It’s a shame because there are some great elements here that would have made the film so much better if given time to develop. The cast includes real talent, alongside the two leads, in Chloe Grace Moretz, Stephen Graham and Jessica Chastain, to name a few. The environment the killings are taking place in could be very scary and eerie if utilised properly, but even this feels like a missed opportunity.
When the film ended, all I could think of was how much better the story could have been if given the time that a tv show would present you with. Backstorys for the detectives and the supporting characters would have been a lot easier to manage, as well as a motive for the killer that would make much more sense than it does in the film itself.
Overall, Texas Killing Fields suffers from trying too much in too little time. Not enough time is spent on the murder investigation and slightly too much time is spent on the lives of the detectives. The actors involved are fantastic but are never used as well as they could have been. Texas Killing Fields would make such a better tv show, like most crime thrillers do.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)