In the Electric Mist
The character of Dave Robicheaux, Louisiana lawman, appears in more than a
dozen crime novels written by James Lee Burke. "In the Electric Mist," #6 in
the series, is the second one to be adapted into a film. The first was
"Heaven's Prisoners," #2 in the series. The first actor to play
Robicheaux was Alec Baldwin, who was then still in his thirties. The new one stars Tommy Lee Jones, who is 62.
The film had a lot of promise. After all, ol' Tommy Lee seems to have the
mastered the art of playing
a tough and taciturn southern lawman. The Hollywood Reporter
summed it up perfectly: "Tommy Lee Jones does his usual wonderful job of
playing Tommy Lee Jones, that is, a contemplative but alcoholic and violent
small-town sheriff who beats people up when he has to, between bouts of
philosophical rumination rendered in poetic voiceover." Jones is supported by
a strong cast including John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard and Mary Steenbergen.
Burke's books are highly regarded by mystery fans, and this is a particularly
quirky one about modern crimes being solved in parallel to a crime which
occurred 40 years earlier. At one point Sheriff Robicheaux gets some LSD
slipped into his Dr. Pepper, so he starts to imagine conversations with a
Confederate General, just for a little extra southern-friend flavor. The
director of the film is Bertrand Tavernier, a favorably regarded French
helmsman who has nearly two dozen directorial credits at IMDb, including The
Passion of Beatrice, and Coup de Tourchon. The story is dripping with
Louisiana atmosphere: olden plantations, neighborhoods destroyed by the great
hurricane, bayous in the morning fog, torrential rains, zydeco music,
flamboyant accents, and more.
So why isn't it a better movie?
The script is the culprit.
Tavernier, although a virtual novice in English-language films, did a fine
job at presenting the atmosphere and attitude of Loozeann, and the film flows
nicely for about forty minutes - and then it just falls apart. It seems
as if the authors were about 40 pages into the script and suddenly realized
that they were going to have a six hour film on their hands if they didn't
start moving the story forward a little faster. About halfway into the film,
the plot twists just start piling up and people start dying like flies. When
the film was approaching the finish line, while I was trying to piece together
who was actually responsible for all the dead bodies, Tommy Lee suddenly
started spewing some resonant southern prose in voice-over, telling us what
happened to a bunch of the characters after the movie ended.
Unfortunately, the movie never did end. Tommy's narrative didn't include one of the guys who actually
committed the key murder from 40 years earlier, and it didn't explain exactly
why some of the people died in the present, or how the murderer could have
gotten to them. I know who the latter-day murderer was, but I don't know how
he could possibly have been where he was or could have done what he did in at least two
cases. As for the other guy who was involved in the murder in the past, that story line
just ended without closure. For all the build-up, the revelation of the
two baddies and the subsequent denouement were casual and underwhelming.
And then, out of nowhere, there was a science-fiction element in the
I didn't make that up. Honest.
That final moment before the credits was just plain dumb. All of a sudden
the film had had one of those crazy endings after the ending, totally out of
left field, like the ones Hitchcock would deliver while talking to the camera
after his TV show, or the ones that used to cap the stories in the old EC
To Bertrand Tavernier's credit, the version of the film which he presented
at Berlinale did not include the preposterous "crypt-keeper" finale. On the
other hand, Tavernier's version must have included many scenes which have
subsequently been deleted, because the festival version was 117 minutes long,
while the current version is 15 minutes shorter.
Despite plot holes and pacing issues which may have been created when the
studio altered Tavernier's cut, In the Electric Mist is not at all a bad film.
As straight-to-video films go, it is definitely top-shelf material, and you
absolutely should rent it if you have any interest in this type of genre film
and/or in Burke's writing. Those inclined to enjoy this kind of story, and I
count myself in that group, will find it worth watching for all of its
plusses, and will be tolerant of its problems. But with the
high-powered talent involved in this production, the investors had to be
hoping for something better than a strong cable movie, and that just never
Too bad. It coulda been a contenda.
NOTE: the film is not technically a straight-to-cable or straight-to-DVD.
It made a perfunctory appearance in a few theaters to avoid the stigma of
hyphen world. In fact it may be playing in your city right now if you live in
one of the big movie markets.
The only nudity comes from an
uncredited extra with aftermarket hooters She performs a private strip for John Goodman.