Case Number 15454: Small Claims Court


Image Entertainment // 2008 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 15th, 2009

The Charge

No one can escape the sins of the past.

The Case

8:37 PM: It was a bitter and cold night in Georgia. Weather aside, it was a night just like any other night, until it wasn't. Things took a turn when a DVD screener disc came across my desk. In the Electric Mist was the title. Not a concert DVD, as I initially expected. Refusing to let this minor blow to my investigative skills deter me, I examined the package further for evidence.

8:40 PM: Using top-of-the-line LATC (Looking at the Case) techniques, I found some particularly interesting clues to the mystery of this screener disc. It was a film, a new film from acclaimed director Bertrand Tavernier. Checked the files to see if Tavernier had a record here in the states. He's spent the past 20 years or so making films in France, but I noticed that he did make a particularly noteworthy English-language film called 'Round Midnight back in 1986. What inspired him to make another English-language film, some two decades later?

8:43 PM: More interesting clues. The cast of actors assembled for the project is notable. More than notable, really. A pretty awe-inspiring cast, to be perfectly honest. Lead actor is Tommy Lee Jones, who reached new levels of talent in recent years in films like The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and No Country for Old Men. He's given support by John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), Ned Beatty (Shooter), Mary Steenburgen (Step Brothers), Peter Sarsgaard (The Skeleton Key), Kelly MacDonald (Gosford Park), Levon Helm (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), and even director John Sayles. What a terrific group of actors. What inspired them all to join this particular project? What was so exciting about In the Electric Mist?

8:47 PM: Even more information turns up. In the Electric Mist is based on a popular novel by James Lee Burke. The title of the novel reveals even more information: In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead. Makes things a bit more interesting, doesn't it? The book is the sixth in an ongoing series of novels about a law enforcement officer named Dave Robicheaux (played by Jones in the film). In the book and in the film, Robicheaux investigates a murder in New Orleans, deals with all sorts of unsavory characters, and ends up having hallucinatory conversations with dead Confederate officers. Certainly pretty far out there.

8:50 PM: I discover the most startling piece of information yet. In the Electric Mist was originally slated to be a high-profile theatrical release. Now it's more or less going straight to DVD (some claim that the film had a super-brief and super-limited theatrical run, but I couldn't find any solid evidence of that). So let me get this straight: the film is based on a popular novel, helmed by an acclaimed director, and features an all-star cast. Something's starting to smell pretty rotten on this one. With hesitation and curiosity, I decide to take the plunge and pop the screener disc into my DVD player.

10:50 PM: Well, that explains that. I should have guessed it, really. In the Electric Mist is a surprising failure, one that never managed to resonate with me on any level. It's a very routine police procedural with rather one-note characters and no real surprises. For most of the film's duration, Jones goes from person to person picking up clues. These conversations are surprisingly mundane and uninteresting. The film does attempt to spice things up on occasion with a bit of violence (Robicheaux has a habit of intentionally distracting people before beating them with his fists or a baseball bat), but violence is not the road to this film's salvation. Excuse me, I need some coffee.

10:53 PM: The characters here are all taken from the novel, but the film acts as if the viewer has read all six novels before seeing the film. Readers of the series will be able to add background and depth to the characters here, but viewers will not know any more than the film tells them. You don't learn that Robicheaux is a Vietnam veteran. You don't learn that his wife, Bootsie, is the former widow of a mobster. You don't learn that his daughter is adopted, or about his history with any of the other characters. The film just picks up as if it were the sixth film in a series, which is frustrating and unsatisfying. The performances lack nuance, which is surprising considering the level of talent here. The only actor who makes a strong impression is a shaggy Peter Sarsgaard as an alcoholic movie star. The second-biggest contribution comes from composer Marco Beltrami, who provides a very flavorful Cajun score that gives the film a pulse on occasion.

10:55 PM: The craftsmanship in general is both odd and sub-par. The film's direction feels amateurish and lazy at times, as Tavernier never finds a way to bring suspense or tension to scenes that should be nail-biting. It's impossible to really care about what is going on, because Tavernier approaches the material with such an unenthusiastic attitude. Even the hallucination sequences fail to provide much interest, as they were intentionally filmed in a drab way. Tavernier thought that this would make the movie unique. Not really. It only serves to make the unique elements less interesting.

11:00 PM: I was hoping to check out some of the special features, to see if anyone would admit that things went wrong. Unfortunately, no such features were included on this screener disc. However, the packaging informs me that the official DVD will include an audio commentary and some behind-the-scenes footage. I also can't comment on the audio and video quality, as that will undoubtedly also improve by the time the official DVD release arrives. Here, the screen turns black-and-white every ten minutes with a reminder that I am watching a not-for-sale screener disc.

11:05 PM: In the Electric Mist is a poorly-organized mess and supreme waste of talent. Guilty of not being 10 percent as good as it could have been. Court is adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Featurette
* Trailer

* IMDb