When Michael Mann made his second feature, following 1979 tele-movie The Jericho Mile, the result was the sublime Thief.
It’d be unfair to expect his daughter, Ami Canaan Mann, to match that. But it’s a struggle not to look at her sophomore film, Texas Killing Fields – which follows up her little-seen 2001 indie Morning – and think of her old man(n).
Produced by him, Fields is a gritty procedural overflowing with Mann family DNA. The story sees two mismatched cops (aren’t they always?) – local homicide detective Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and his partner Brian Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – embroiled in a serial-killer hunt. The female victims, it seems, are left in a swampland on the outskirts of Texas City, known locally as the ‘killing fields’.
Inspired by true events, the plot sees Heigh become obsessed with tracking the killer; his zeal only intensifies when Anne (Chloë Grace Moretz), delinquent daughter to local prostitute Lucie (Twin
Peaks’ Sheryl Lee), also goes AWOL.
Souder is less keen, what with the case out of their jurisdiction and his ex-wife Pam (Jessica Chastain), a detective from a nearby county, also involved.
Scripted by Don Ferrarone, a former DEA agent and technical advisor on Heat and Miami Vice, the film oozes authenticity and bayou-inspired atmosphere.
Other elements to savour include Stephen Graham’s grubby power plant worker, a gripping central car chase and Tindersticks founder Dickon Hinchliffe’s bluesy score.
If Ferrarone and Mann should be praised for pursuing a story that’s anything but open-and-shut, Fields never quite exceeds its parts.
Morgan and Worthington lack real chemistry, the sound quality is as murky as the film’s setting (hampering crucial dialogue exchanges) and it’s as if the editing was done by Edward Scissorhands. A pity, as there’s undeniably a good film lost in here somewhere.
Mann Jr shows plenty of promise in a film that doesn’t tarnish the family name. But hindered by niggling flaws, it hardly revolutionises an over-saturated genre.