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.

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Comment by Christopher Valen on March 23, 2009 at 3:18am
Good critique, Dana. I certainly thought the movie was good enough to appear in theaters, especially with Tommy Lee Jones' star power, but that's Hollywood. You may have already mentioned that you saw the film version of "Heaven's Prisoners" with Alec Baldwin. I genuinely liked that movie and Baldwin's portrayal of Dave Robicheaux. If you haven't seen it, do rent it.
Comment by Dana King on March 22, 2009 at 11:42pm
I got a chance to see the DVD last night, and liked it, though not without reservation. We saw the shorter American version, not the longer cut that was submitted to the Berlin Festival; I'd like a chance to see the other sometime, as some plot elements were introduced, only to be given short shrift. The killing of the prostitutes, for example, is set up as the primary story, then solved kind of as an afterthought. It's been a while since I read the book, but Burke usually does a better job wrapping things up than that.

Ribicheaux seems a little harder in the movie than I think of him, but it occurred to me the books have the benefit of describing his thought processes, so his violence doesn't seem quite as sudden or random. It worked in the movie--I thought the character was something of an amalgam of both Dave and Clete, who does not appear--but it's not quite the Dave Robicheaux I had come to know.

Tommy Lee Jones was as good as I thought he be as Robicheaux, and Mary Steenburgen was a good Bootsie, as was the girl who played Alafair. John Goodman pulled off Baby Feet, but his accent rambled from time to time.Ned Beatty and James Gammon gave their usual solid character performances. I also thought the film did a nice job of capturing the attitudes and settings of Burke's books. Overall, I'd give it 3 stars out of 4. I'd see it again.
Comment by Christopher Valen on March 15, 2009 at 1:42am
Jack,
I liked that the movie stuck close to the book's plot and characters. Nothing aggravates me more than when Hollywood completely changes a book, particularly the ending. I understand screenwriters have to work within certain time limitations and a few movies have been better than the books, but that's a rare exception, at least in my experience.
Comment by Christopher Valen on March 15, 2009 at 1:39am
Dana,
Let me know what you think of the movie.
Comment by Jack Getze on March 14, 2009 at 1:06pm
I was disappointed. The slow pace got to me, and I never understood why the dead general kept coming around. I probably missed something during one of my many trips to the fridge.
Comment by Dana King on March 14, 2009 at 12:19pm
I was excited when I heard this was being made, partly because ELECTRIC MIST is one of my favorite Robicheaux books, and partly because I thought Tommy Lee Jones would be a great Robicheaux. It's been frustrating to see how this film has been treated. Thanks for the heads up. I'll look for it on DVD. From what you've said here about the pacing, I think I'll like it.

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