Some solid performances notwithstanding, Death in Texas can’t find the quality to match its aching sincerity.
This review of Death in Texas is spoiler-free.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw such a silly movie take itself quite so seriously. Yet here we are with Death in Texas, an achingly sincere thriller that also fancies itself a family drama about a son willing to go to extremes to save the life of his dear old mother. Wrapped up in all that is a story of atonement, personal redemption, and doing the right thing even if it’s for the wrong reasons – it’s a lot of meat on the bones of a narrative skeleton that, at least on paper, sounds like a parody of the exact kind of film Death in Texas ends up being.
At least things start as they mean to go on. We’re to understand that Billy (Ronnie Gene Blevins) is a violent criminal likely to respond to stressful situations with… well, violence, but the parole board lets him out on compassionate grounds anyway since his mother (Lara Flynn Boyle) is dying of liver failure. Sounds stressful to me! Indeed, Billy responds to the predicament by resolving to find his mother a replacement liver, and since such things are a) in short supply and b) pricey, he’ll have to go to some questionable lengths in order to do it.
Luckily for us, those lengths bring Billy into the ambit of various great characters actors, including Stephen Lang and Bruce Dern, the latter delighting in playing a psychotic mob boss. All the usual archetypes are there, from the blond bartender in super short shorts to the unhinged drug dealer with a grill, and all the expected beats are hit, from fights and killings to torture and villain chinwagging. If you were looking for anything new in Death in Texas you’ll be disappointed, but if you were looking for a specifically weird and bonkers version of an old thing you’ll be well served.
The performances here are good enough to feel deliberately idiosyncratic like they’re making fun of the woeful dialogue by treating it with complete seriousness. They even manage to imbue a hilariously obvious and cliched conclusion with some dramatic weight. Stephen Lang is great and earned his paycheck with sheer sincerity alone, but I’d be fascinated to see a version of this film where everything else matched the quality of the acting. It’s a masterclass in how great performers can elevate shoddy material, but the material is so shoddy that there’s only so much they can do.
You can’t hate a movie this earnest. But you can make fun of it a little bit. If you’re in the mood to do just that, it’s worth a look.