Monday 17 October 2011


(Ami Canaan Mann, 2011)

Odd that Mann so obviously invites comparison with the work of her father - and producer here - Michael Mann, by choosing to work in the genre with which he is best associated, Crime, with this noirish modern procedural.
Her style cribs from his too, a risky influence, given that attempts to copy such a distinctive style leaves certain directors with films which resemble nothing so much as television drama. Mann, while lacking the acute visual poetry of her father's superior eye, displays enough talent here to avoid that. While she likes to use inserts and near-abstract cutaways to begin scenes in place of establishing shots, just as Michael does, she directs scenes with a muscular confidence and fine sense of rhythm and timing absent from the work of many of his imitators.
This story suits her, with a very masculine sensibility at play following two Texan Detectives working on possibly interlinked cases of abducted and murdered girls in the Industrial backwater of Texas City. There is little exposition early on and we piece together the relationships and backstory as we go.
Little humour here, either, everybody furrowed of brow and intense of gaze. This is the kind of film where the cops return home at night and instead of watching tv or playing xbox, they brood intensely in the kitchen or grimly watch the rain. Though this makes for a few feverish, near self-parodic moments, it does help to build the tension, which rises steadily throughout the film. Indeed, Mann's talent is best discerned in mood, with an impressively sustained atmosphere of sweaty suspense and an indelibly textured portrayal of place; from the eerie alien landscape of the killing fields to the bleak industrial structures on the edge of town.
Her work with actors is less assured, but much of that is down to the material. These characters are largely one-note, constrained by the film's obsession with a single, dreadful case.
Sam Worthington is fine as the younger Detective, with plenty of scope to fume and bristle, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan's more soulful side is indulged by his character's missionary suffering. Stephen Graham registers vividly in just a few scenes, while Jessica Chastain is required to be angry in her every moment. All are overwhelmed by the mounting mood of foreboding and the shadowy blacks of the photography.
The plotting is mostly predictable but Mann enlivens proceedings with a couple of viscerally impressive set pieces.

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