…I was about to learn that the dead can hover on the edge of our vision with the density and luminosity of mist, and their claim on the earth can be as legitimate and tenacious as our own.
I’ve been a fan of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels for a long time. The books tell the story of Robicheaux’s battles with alcohol, the past, the future and the people in New Iberia that represent all of the above.
In the Electric Mist marks Hollywood’s second attempt to film Burke’s lyrical prose following the maddeningly uneven Heaven’s Prisoners, a movie most famous for being the first place a then Lois Lane Teri Hatcher appeared topless.
Tommy Lee Jones steps into Dave’s boots, replacing Alec Baldwin. The rest of the cast is top shelf and includes John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Sarsgaard, Levon Helm and Ned Beatty (you can’t make a Southern movie without Ned Beatty).
I’d been looking forward to seeing this one ever since it was announced that Jones had bought the rights to a pair of Burke’s books and intended to play Robicheaux himself. The movie was never released into theaters, instead going straight to home video. Not a good sign.
The plot revolves around Dave, a detective with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department, investigating the murders of several women in and around the parish. As usually happens, Dave’s investigation leads him to seek redress for an injustice done long ago. The bodies pile up as Dave tries to solve both mysteries.
Burke’s books are full of lyrical prose describing the beauty and ugliness of South Louisiana. He never pulls any punches. The text of the book is used throughtout as voiceover narration to give the movie a bit of the first person feel of the books.
The books’ greatest strength has been, and will probably always be the movies’ biggest weakness. Its hard to get the language of the book onto the screen. This movie is probably about as good as they’ll do.
Jones is solid as Robicheaux. He doesn’t try to affect a full blown Cajun accent. He uses his natural Texas accent and mushes it up. He had the dead eyes I’ve always imagined Robicheaux having. He even manages to pull off the sudden, often unexpected bursts of violence Robicheaux is famous for.
John Goodman could have chewed scenery as Babyfeet Balboni. Instead, he unplays it as the mental defect/criminal/movie producer. His disregard for the law in general and Robicheaux in particular is fun to watch.
I never would have picked Mary Steenburgen to play Dave’s wife, Bootsie. However, having seen the movie, she’s perfect. She grounds Dave and gives him a play of peace amidst a sea of violence.
The true star of this movie, though, is the state of Louisiana itself. The filmmakers capture the uniqueness of the state in every shot.
In the Electric Mist was an odd choice to jump start a franchise with. The storyline is dense and odd. I’m willing to bet that it will be offputting to some viewers.
However, if you’re a fan of the books you should give it a shot.
If you’re not, and you’re willing to take a chance on an ambitious, if uneven, movie, you could do worse.