You know something’s slightly amiss when a movie calls itself one thing, and then shuffles the cards and thinks it over and calls itself something else, and then changes its mind a second time by going back to the original title, etc. It usually suggests that certain parties (usually those involved with the financing or distribution) are uncomfortable with the content or tone of it, and are looking to camouflage things on some level.
I’m referring to a reportedly dark and creepy and (perhaps) somewhat Zodiac-like crime movie called The Texas Killing Fields. Directed by Ami Canaan Mann, it’ll be opening sometime in October via Anchor Bay Films. And the fact that it was initially called The Texas Killing Fields, and then The Fields, and then The Texas Killing Fields again.
Although The Texas Killing Fields has been more or less finished since late 2010 (when it apparently had a research screening) and will be showing this week in Manhattan for long-lead press, the film has no website and no specific debut date in October.
In my book these factors add up to a very slight “uh-oh” vibe. Nothing to get too worried about, but you can sense a vague wobble factor. I’m always a bit hesitant when Anchor Bay is the distributor because they rarely get the pick of the litter — let’s face it.
My interest was nonetheless sparked when I heard about this week’s screening because (a) it’s been produced by Michael Mann (i.e., the father of the director, who’s directed one other feature, Morning, along with a lot of allegedly commendable TV work), (b) it has an interesting cast topped by Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Moretz, Stephen Graham, Jessica Chastain and Annabeth Gish; and (c) two years ago Danny Boyle was planning to direct it before he bailed in fall ’09 to make 127 Hours, but not before calling the script “almost too dark to get made.”
The Texas Killing Fields is about the Texas I-45 Murders, a series of unsolved killings of prostitutes and lonely girls in the ’80s, probably by more than one assailant, in a blighted area south of Houston near Interstate I-45, which runs from Dallas down to Galveston Bay.
Deadline‘s Michael Fleming reported 15 months ago that Don Ferrarone‘s script is “a true story of a pair of detectives investigating [the] murders in a stretch of bayous near the oil refineries in coastal Texas where as many as 70 bodies have turned up over the past 30 years.
(l. to r.) Michael Mann, Sam Worthington, Ami Canaan Mann.
“Worthington will play Jake, this tough-minded misanthropic Texan, who with his partner Brian wind up waging something of a war against these unknown assailants, a ferocious battle to save each other and the life of this young street kid.
“It’s a brilliant screenplay,” Mann told Fleming, “filled with things you cannot make up in Hollywood, things you would have had to find the dead bodies in a heroin operation to understand. That’s why it’s such a haunting piece. This is such a spooky zone in Texas where cell phones don’t work, where the homes sit on trailer stilts, and where there’s a hand-painted sign on the bridge that reads, `You Are Now Entering the Cruel World’.”
Well and good. I’m intrigued. I asked earlier today when an L.A. screening might happen and if I could be among the invited. I’m always queer for perplexing policiers about cases that can’t seem to get solved.
On top of which anything with the Michael Mann stamp is automatically presumed to be a cut or two above, and you have to also assume that Mann’s relationship to his daughter during production was probably akin to the relationship between Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby during the making of The Thing (’51).
But you’d also think Anchor Bay would have their shit together a bit more by now. You’d figure they’d have a firm release date, and that the film, which has all kinds of true-crime history behind it and which will be in theatres roughly three months from now, would have some kind of snazzy, stacked-up website up by now.
You’d also have to consider that screening The Texas Killing Fields at the Toronto Film Festival might make sense. If it’s as dark as Boyle said it is, you’d want to show it to people who aren’t instantly thrown by high-style crime movies with grim stories. How do I know The Texas Killing Fields is high-style? I don’t, but I’d be very surprised if it isn’t.