Wednesday, March 04, 2009

DVD: In the Electric Mist (2009)

This adaptation of a Dave Robicheaux novel by James Lee Burke went straight to DVD in the United States. There’s an alternate version playing in Europe, and the confederate dead are no longer in the title. That electric mist must be thick.

Still, it’s Robicheaux and it’s director Bertrand Tavernier, who made the great cop drama L.627 and Coup de Torchon, based on Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280. Rent the Criterion DVD of Torchon, watch the deleted waltzing monkeys ending, and understand why people speak of the French as they do.

Electric Mist is one of the later, more baroque entries in the Robicheaux series. (Someone please make a movie of Black Cherry Blues.) Dave is dealing with a string of brutal serial killings; the skeleton of a black man found in the bayou some 40 years after Dave witnessed his murder; a dipsomaniacal movie star filming a Civil War drama on location; and the ghost of General John Bell Hood. I can see why Tavernier sparked to the material. It’s a chance to meditate on America’s great crimes. And the French love that movie-within-a-movie stuff.

It’s a lot of story for one movie, and the compression is clunky. The pace is more languorous than suspenseful. I blame the heat. Well, not so much the heat as the humidity.

Updating the setting to post-Katrina Louisiana works, and the locations are shown to good effect. And there’s no faulting the cast. Tommy Lee Jones is a dandy Dave. John Goodman and Ned Beatty, veterans of the definitive New Orleans crime drama, have a high time as heavies. And you have to credit any movie with the wit to cast John Sayles as the director of a bloated Hollywood production, and the sense to give Buddy Guy a speaking role.

It’s not perfect by a damn sight. But it deserves a damn sight better.