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In the Electric Mist (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

In the Electric Mist


Starring Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Kelly Macdonald, Mary Steenburgen, Justina Machado, Ned Beatty, James Gammon, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Levon Helm, Buddy Guy, Julio Cedillo, Alana Locke, Bernard Hocke, Steve Broussard and John Sayles.

Screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski.

Directed by Bertrand Tavernier.

Distributed by Image Entertainment.  102 minutes.  Rated R.

It is interesting the turn that the movie business has taken in the last couple of years.

Until recently, straight-to-video films were generally the province of cheesy comedies, low-rent horror films or in-name-only sequels to long-dead franchises.  Now, however, it is becoming more and more common to find movies with big-named stars, good pedigrees and relatively impressive budgets slinking directly home for viewing.

In the Electric Mist would have never been a blockbuster – and honestly it doesn’t deserve to be – but it has an extremely deep and interesting cast, a well-respected director, a complex-and-at-times-incendiary plot and the film is based on a best-selling novel.  It’s pretty hard to believe that it didn’t warrant any type of significant theatrical release in the US.  (Apparently it did get brief runs in countries like France, Germany and Greece.)

However, here it is, quietly being released on video with almost no fanfare or anticipation.  There was anticipation built up for the straight-to-video likes of Space Buddies – which starred some third banana supporting actors from the sitcoms Coach, Hannah Montana and The Drew Carey Show.  So how come a Southern-gothic mystery touching on serial killers, old-South lynching, organized crime and Hollywood excess – starring a respected and diverse cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones, Peter Sarsgaard, John Goodman, Ned Beatty, Mary Steenburgen, legendary indie director John Sayles and singers Levon Helm and Buddy Guy – has barely made a ripple?

In the Electric Mist does not deserve that fate, though it is not as good a movie as it wants to be, either.  The story is sometimes confusing, it works a little too hard to fit together disparate threads and doesn’t always work hard enough to explain the motives of the characters.

For example, the main case for Louisiana sheriff Dave Robicheaux is a series of mutilated women.  Even when the film explains who did the killings, they never really explain why.  Did the murderer have a real motive?  Was he just generically twisted for the purposes of the plot?  We never really know.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.  Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic who left the New Orleans PD to work the small parish of New Iberia.  In his sleepy little town two cases appear to dovetail together – the mutilation of a 19-year-old prostitute and the recently discovered body of a black man who had been shot 40 years earlier – a killing that Robicheaux had witnessed as a young boy.

Add in a Hollywood movie being made in his town and the return of his long-time nemesis, a local mobster with the decidedly unintimidating nickname of “Baby Feet” (John Goodman) – and Robicheaux has his hands full.

Robicheaux also periodically gets “visitations” from a long-dead Confederate General – played with courtly honor by 60s singer Levon Helm of The Band – who gives Dave advice on the case.  It’s supposed to be quirky, but honestly, it’s a little perplexing.  Is the General real?  Is it a hallucination?  Is Robicheaux going crazy?

In the Electric Mist has a quirky pace and cadence and some intriguing characters – but frankly the storyline is a little more complex than it need be and many of the conclusions are kind of obvious.  (I knew who the eventual central bad guy was the first time he appeared on screen).  Also, the explanations can be a little rushed or just a little too coincidental.

Still, In the Electric Mist is mostly a satisfying-if-imperfect old-fashioned cop thriller, with just enough quirks and Cajun spice to make it stand out.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: February 28, 2009.


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