In The Electric Mist


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

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 to reach film status was "Heaven's Prisoners," #2 in the book series, which featured Alec Baldwin, then in his thirties, as Robicheaux. The new one stars Tommy Lee Jones, who is 62.

Electric Mist 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-fried 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 Torchon. 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, given all those elements, 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 epilogue.

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 horror comics.

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.  I, for one, would like to see Tavernier's cut.

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 emerged.

Too bad. It coulda been a contenda.

DVD Book


There are no major reviews online, but the IMDb page features many external reviews in several languages.






6.2 IMDB summary (of 10)





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.

It also received some limited distribution in Europe.





The only nudity comes from an uncredited extra with aftermarket hooters  She performs a private strip for John Goodman.





Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It seems that there is probably a great film buried somewhere inside this average one, but I also liked the average one.