When one thinks of "Manhunter" and "Heat" film director Michael Mann, stunning visual style and tone comes to mind – like father, like daughter. Filmmaker Ami Canaan Mann is making a name for herself by creating her own memorable work and her latest is the dark and moody crime thriller "Texas Killing Fields" (out Jan. 31 from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment) starring Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain and Chloe Grace Moretz. The film, which marks a real bold stroke for Mann in both style and tone, is loosely based on true events about the murder of various women who were then dumped in the oil fields of League City, Texas. Starpulse got a chance to chat one-on-one with Mann about the real-life events that inspired the film, her fabulous cast and what influences she took from her famous filmmaking father. A new director of note is in the house, welcome...
Writer Don Ferrarone and yourself were a tad vague on the DVD commentary track about the real-life events that the film is based – what were some of the specific events that inspired you most to make the film?
Ami Canaan Mann: I think if it came off as vagueness it was probably due to the overabundance of information – there are fifty some odd crimes that have been committed in that area since 1969. So there’s just an inordinate amount of information and that was one of the qualities about the story that inspired me. That that phenomena crime could exist and that I’d never heard of it. So there’s no way, unless you’re doing a documentary, to capture every crime. I think Don did this very smart thing of pulling certain elements from certain crimes and then creating an amalgamation which then became part of the narrative - we could at least we could get a sense of the phenomena.
You’re style in "Texas Killing Fields" is very unique – somewhere between your father Michael Mann’s visual style and David Lynch’s askew sensibility – what was the look you were trying to achieve?
ACM: That’s high praise! (Laughs) Thank you very much! I took a look again at some of my favorite movies, one of which is an early Peter Weir movie called "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and the film "Don’t Look Now" by Nicolas Roeg. I really wanted to capture something that I thought both those movies did really well which was create a sense of ominousness that was really subtle and hopefully creeped up on you. Something that wasn’t literal and visceral, but more tone and ambiance.
You have a fabulous and diverse cast on this one – can you talk a little about them and their various processes?
ACM: Everybody has their own language and lexicon and certainly that’s the case with actors because they’re trained so differently. So Sam Worthington has a theatre background and he’s familiar with the Meisner Technique so we were able to work on that level. Jeffery Dean Morgan doesn't have a theatre background and his background is really in TV, so he has to be coached in a different way. Jessica Chastain is classically trained. Chloe Moretz is a phenomenon – she was twelve when we shot this. She has complete control of her craft, has incredible amount of empathy and so she was able to draw on that. There was a lot of research because it was based on true events, so there was a lot of people to talk to and spending a lot of time with the actual detectives. So everybody across the board – including myself – really benefited from doing that kind of research and all put it through their own particular processes.
Also your supporting cast, including Annabeth Gish and "Twin Peaks" gal Sheryl Lee, are fabulous – were you hands on with the casting of the smaller roles as well?
ACM: Oh yeah. Sheryl Lee came in and blew me away and Stephen Graham is a genius. I’m incredibly lucky to have gotten the cast I got, some of the most talented actors working today. Sheryl Lee, she just had...I wanted very much for that character when you looked at her you could tell that she’d once been an incredible beauty and she’d made some bad choices. The part was pretty small, but it needed to have an impact and I think Sheryl captured that really well.
Having Michael Mann, one of the great film directors as your father, what inspiration did you take from his work as a film director yourself?
ACM: I’m very lucky because the primary influence was just having the opportunity, which I also got from Robert Redford who is a very different director. Very different techniques – very different approaches. I’m very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to watch the process. Directing is a funny thing because as a director you don't really get to see other people do it. So I worked on "Heat" for about a year and a half as an Assistant Line Producer and I ended up directing 2nd Unit, so I was able to watch from the beginning to the end his process and that was the biggest influence. Just seeing the work ethic and what it is to tell a story well.
What’s next for you?
ACM: We’ll have to wait and see! I’ve got a stack of scripts that are building up on my desk, so we’ll see what happens.
Check out the DVD review below!
Title: "Texas Killing Fields"
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain
Director: Ami Canaan Mann
Runtime: 105 minutes
Release Company: Anchor Bay Entertainment
The Flick: You can easily see the Mann-esk visual style running through "Texas Killing Fields," with Michael’s daughter Ami employing the family staple of stark and cutting colors. But there’s also a strange style stillness to the film (think David Lynch!) that makes this familiar crime thriller a notable standout. Mann's film contains dark material and doesn't apologize for it, instead examining the underbelly elements of every character and situation that inhabits the flick. Plus her cast is the crème de la crème of actors that includes Sam Worthington (his best work yet!), Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain and Chloe “Kick Ass” Moretz – all amazing. With the bold and brooding "Texas Killing Fields," the female Mann is coming into her own.
Best Feature: The 'Commentary' with Mann and writer Don Ferrarone, while vague on the film-based details (see above!), makes for an interesting listen.
Best Hidden Gem: The underrated and underused Sheryl Lee steals the flick (didn't even recognize her at first!) as a trailer trash mom.
Worth the Moola: For those who like it dark and dirty, "Texas Killing Fields" is your greener pastures.