In the Electric Mist

In the Electric Mist (DVD Cover)

Cast: Dave Robicheaux (Tommy Lee Jones), Bootsie Robicheaux (Mary Steenburgen), Julie "Baby Feet" Balboni (John Goodman), Elrod Sykes (Peter Sarsgaard), Kelly Drummond (Kelly Macdonald), Rosie Gomez (Justina Machado), Twinky LeMoyne (Ned Beatty).

Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Theatrical release: 03/03/2009
DVD Date: 03/03/2009

Rating: R
Running Time: 102 minutes

Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke.

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In the Electric Mist

Review: In the Electric Mist was announced over two years ago and originally scheduled for release in December 2007. It wasn't until late 2008 that the studio announced the movie was going direct to DVD, forgoing a theatrical release entirely, raising all sorts of red flags to experienced movie watchers. With a stellar cast, and a screenplay adapted from a book written by one of America's best mystery novelists, what went wrong?

First, a couple of disclaimers. I think Tommy Lee Jones is about the best actor working today. And though I haven't read In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, I have read many other James Lee Burke mysteries and found them to be exceptionally well plotted and written. So I went into this movie with high expectations.

The movie opens with Dave Robicheaux, a parish detective formerly with the New Orleans Police Department, investigating two crimes. The first is the brutal murder of a young girl, found tortured in the woods. It is followed soon thereafter with the murder of another young girl, found stuffed into a barrel.

The second is the body of a black man wrapped in chains, found in the bayou by the star of a Civil War action movie filming in the parish. The body is clearly quite old, triggering Robicheaux to remember a shooting he witnessed when he was a teenager.

Robicheaux suspects the local bad boy, "Baby Feet" Balboni, may be involved in the first case. And because Balboni is an "investor" in the movie being filmed in the parish, that links him, ever so tenuously, to the second case as well.

Robicheaux typically plays by his own rules, using as his guide a moral compass that doesn't always fall within department guidelines. He's not above physically threatening a suspect or planting evidence to smooth over the rough spots of an investigation. Some of the more powerful scenes are when Robicheaux assumes the role of a bad cop, knowing what he's doing is wrong, but doing it anyway.

One night, Robicheaux is drugged at a party and later drives his truck into a bayou. There he meets Confederate General John Bell Hood. He knows he's hallucinating, but the General makes two more appearances later in the movie when he's under extreme stress, but clearly not hallucinating. This is the origin of the title of the film (and the book), but is also the weakest element of the movie. There is only the vaguest connection between the conversations Robicheaux has with the General and the cases he's investigating.

One would presume both investigations are closed in the end, but the resolution to one is ambiguously, or maybe just clumsily, handled. I admit I originally made the assumption the filmmaker asked me to make, but upon reflection, I'm not so certain.

The last few frames of the film are a bit silly. I don't know for sure, but I find it hard to believe Burke included the scene in his book.

Is In the Electric Mist a great movie? No, but it is a very good movie and one worth watching. The performances are uniformly outstanding, the direction crisp, the bayou scenes dripping with atmosphere, and the plot intricate without being confusing. The soundtrack could have, should have, added depth and character to the movie, but unfortunately is completely forgettable. It doesn't interfere, but it doesn't contribute anything either. (And I know it isn't supposed to matter one way or the other, but the DVD cover is just plain awful. File that under "what were they thinking?")


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