I’ve been a James Lee Burke fan for a number of years and always look forward to his next novel. Two of his books, “Heaven’s Prisoners” and “In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead”, have been made into movies. Heaven’s Prisoners, released in 1996, starred Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheaux and featured a terrific supporting cast including Kelly Lynch, Mary Stuart Masterson, Eric Roberts and Teri Hatcher. I really enjoyed the movie and especially Baldwin’s performance.
So, I was anticipating the spring release of “In The Electric Mist” starring Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux. The movie, directed by noted French director Bertrand Tavernier, also features a solid supporting cast including John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Mary Steenburgen and Ned Beatty.
Much to my surprise, the movie had a very limited theatrical run and went almost immediately to DVD, which certainly was a red flag. Rumors soon surfaced of creative differences on the set. Tavernier insisted that the director’s cut of the movie be released in Europe and shown at the Berlin Film Festival. The producer’s cut I saw on DVD last weekend is fifteen minutes shorter.
Given the creative differences and rush to DVD, my expectations were pretty low. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The screenplay, which sticks very close to the 1993 novel and borrows a number of good lines, has Robicheaux hunting down a serial killer who has been responsible for the deaths of several young Louisiana women. One subplot concerns the murder of a black man Robicheaux witnessed as a child; a murder that may be connected to the current case. Another subplot involves a Hollywood movie that is being filmed and Robicheaux’s relationship with its star, Elrod Sykes (Sarsgaard) an alcoholic like Robicheaux. Both men have visions of a dead Civil War general who offers advice and counsel to Robicheaux.
In The Electric Mist has a distinctly European feel to it. The pacing is slower, the plot more involved, the violence more controlled, yet explosive. The cinematography and Cajun music also add flavor to the story.
I found the movie more enjoyable than I expected. Perhaps it’s because so many of crime dramas I see on movie screens today are littered with gratuitous violence and bodies, particularly any movie that has a serial killer. Many crime dramas look like the comic books they’re made from. Still, I would like to see the longer foreign version of “In The Electric Mist” so I could compare it to the U.S. version.
Burke’s novel is not one of my favorites among the many he has written, and neither is the movie. But it’s worth a look, if for no other reason than you get to see Tommy Lee Jones’ cast as Dave Robicheaux.