Dave's Rating:

3.5

No country for young women.

Somebody out there is watching a whole bunch of NCIS. Actually, it's lot of somebodies. Fewer paid attention to The Wire, but the ones who did earned the right to hold their cultural holier-than-thou-itude over everybody else's heads. The rest of us flip channels and stop on the 24/7 reruns of Law & Order or Law & Order:SVU or CSI: [Your Favorite City] or Bones or whatever that other Law & Order show is. People love to witness crime-busting.

And now, because the examples above are all the proof you need that audiences just can't get enough, Ami Canaan Mann, the daughter of one of the foremost practitioners of crime entertainment, Michael Mann (Crime Story, Miami Vice, Heat, Manhunter), has directed a police story of her own. Written by Don Ferrarone, a former DEA agent, its plot is pretty standard procedural stuff: someone is killing young women and dumping the bodies in a desolate, southeast Texas swampland. Two detectives, one devoutly -- make that morosely -- religious (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), one hotheaded and divorced from an even angrier fellow cop (Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain, reunited after starring together in The Debt), spend their time chasing all kinds of extremely shady locals, any of whom could be guilty of the string of deaths. Worse, the neglected child they keep on eye on (Chloe Moretz) while her mother (Twin Peaks' own murder victim, Sheryl Lee) is "entertaining" an unfortunate collection of "boyfriends" is almost guaranteed to wind up a victim sooner or later.

And why you should care, when so much of this sort of thing is already waiting for you on TV, will depend on your enthusiasm for atmosphere. Because while Mann isn't so interested in keeping you guessing who the killer is -- if you're paying attention, you'll eventually narrow it down yourself with the help of the omniscient camera -- or investigating the personal lives of her law-and-order men with any sort of depth or fresh perspective (in spite of solidly unhappy performances from all the leads), what she's great at is communicating despair.

Any crime movie that forgets to include the misery isn't doing it right. Because murders aren't actually cool or fun. Economically and educationally depressed rural areas of the United States aren't ironically amusing. They're awful. They suck the life out of their residents. Toss in oppressively brutal south Texas heat and humidity and a sense of locked-down hopelessness and you've got an environment thick with sweat and rain and sadness. When a character calls the local area "infected," it's exactly the right word, and if gloom were all a movie needed to power its way through to the closing credits, this would be the best film of the year.

It's not, of course, but it definitely makes the next generation of Mann family filmmaking something worth your attention.

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