In DEATH IN TEXAS, Billy Walker is finally out of prison after serving a seven-year sentence for manslaughter. He’s determined to turn his life around and make the most of his new opportunity but things take a turn when he learns that his mother – the one person who has stuck with him through it all – is dying of liver failure. After visiting her doctor, Billy learns that his mother is running out of time and the waitlist for a transplant is long. In order to save her life, Billy will have to cross back over to the wrong side of the law.
DEATH IN TEXAS is written and directed by Scott Windhauser and boasts an impressive cast featuring Bruce Dern, Stephen Lang, Ronnie Gene Belvins, and Lara Flynn Boyle.
The setting is what makes all the difference, in a film like this. Set in the vast, untamed space between El Paso and Mexico, DEATH IN TEXAS immediately takes on the feeling of a Nuevo Western. The film has sand that rattles in every line and sticks to every shot. Taking this modern fantasy of the “wild” West and marrying it to a traditional crime drama narrative makes this an outlaw film with a lot of potential. Regrettably, that potential is not fully realized.
The redemption tale of DEATH IN TEXAS is as “by the book” as one can get. It hits every familiar beat of the “flawed and tortured, but ultimately good” man that’s doing his best but gets pulled back into the underbelly, for love of family. The film doesn’t miss an opportunity to pile on the drama with genre tropes like, “facing the father of the guy you killed” and “America’s healthcare system drives a lower-income family across the border and into a life of crime.” Not to mention that this paint-by-number film comes in at a whopping two-hour runtime. Suffice to say it is not earned.
It’s a real shame that DEATH IN TEXAS wallows in its predictable melodrama, because this cast is excellent. Bruce Dern brings that same grit that is present in the entire film and it makes him a perfect baddie. As for Stephen Lang, he’s a great actor, giving a great performance of a terribly written character. Truthfully, that’s the heart of the issue with this film. It’s a grouping of excellent performances, but these great actors have been given the most one-dimensional stock characters to work with.
Devotees of crime films will find a familiar rhythm with DEATH IN TEXAS. The setting and tone of the film may be enough to carry it along, as well as some standout performance. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t offer anything distinctive or particularly exciting.
DEATH IN TEXAS is now in theaters and VOD from Vertical Entertainment.