Inspired by true events, Texas Killing Fields follows Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as they investigate the murder of a young woman in a small Texas town, which may also be linked to the disappearance of another girl in the next jurisdiction. Souder’s ex-wife Pam (Jessica Chastain) is the lead investigator on that case, and she begins working with Heigh in an attempt to connect the cases. The investigation leads the detectives to “the killing fields,” a 25-acre stretch of wasteland that has often been used as a dumping ground for murder victims.
The film quickly introduces a string of suspects, including a local pimp (Jon Eyez), his tattooed associate (Jason Clarke), and a shifty-eyed refinery worker named Rhino (Boardwalk Empire‘s Stephen Graham). At first playing out like a police procedural, the film has trouble maintaining focus, following plot threads that seem important to the detectives but ultimately lead nowhere, and missing plenty of opportunities to flesh out the supporting characters, including local problem child Little Ann Sliger (Chloe Grace Moretz), who plays a pivotal role in the late stages of the film.
Chastain and Morgan do the best work here, providing an emotional anchor for the audience, while Worthington desperately tries to smother his Australian accent with a good ol’ boy Texas drawl. Moretz captivates the viewer with a beguiling presence, but is never quite given the chance to showcase her talents, and Graham’s character is a complete one-eighty from his well-known portrayal of Al Capone.
If you’re willing to ignore massive leaps in logic and the non-resolution of a crucial story element, then there are plenty of things here for genre fans to enjoy. Director Ami Canaan Mann (daughter of Michael Mann) certainly shares her father’s ability to create atmosphere, and there’s plenty of style and visual flair on display. It’s just a shame that there’s not enough substance to balance the equation.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10