As I watched The Texas Killing Fields, I had one question running through my mind: why don’t they make more films like this?
I don’t mean this in the Terrence Malick-random-acts-of-genius sort of way, as in “why can’t every filmmaker take seven years in post-production to create a high-minded masterpiece?” I mean it in a “whatever happened to the if it’s Friday, it-must-be-a-new-police-procedural movie” sort of way.
Texas Killing Fields appears to have dropped in from 1986–with its spiked hair barely mussed. This film used to star Ellen Barkin as the fish-out-of-water detective from the city investigating a crime in the backwater. Or Mimi Rogers as the damsel in distress who needs protection from a killer after witnessing a crime. Or, if you’re really lucky, Ellen Barkin Rogers as the damsel in distress who needs protection from a killer after witnessing a crime. Someone like Al Pacino or Tom Berenger would star as the cop who crashed into the apartment just as the killer broke in. Killer dead. Mystery solved. Let the kissing begin.
In short, this used to be what adults did on Friday night: mom and dad get a little mystery, an uncumbersome romance and a chance to support the neighborhood economy by paying the babysitter. Yet I can’t remember the last time I saw a standard-operating-procedure cop film like this, a thing so rare that it could be awarded prestige picture status.
A cop movie about multiple murders on the Gulf Coast refinery town of Texas City, The Texas Killing Fields certainly embraces the genre’s clichés with aplomb: the intense family man detective from a large city now working in the small town (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); the hard-knocks ape-in-a-suit partner with marriage issues (Sam Worthington); a complete weekly motels’ worth of transients who have probably done something wrong–even if none of them are the murderer.
Nothing in Texas Killing Fields will seem unfamiliar but there is a value to doing the old things the right way, especially when they are delicately written, acted with intensity, and capture the local flavor with some useful color. The Texas Killing Fields ultimately raises this interesting movie theoretical: at what moment does yesterday’s cliché become tomorrow’s classicism?
Beyond that, note that the director is Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of producer Michael Mann, and notice that extra-loud gunshots run in the family.