Image Entertainment // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // March 3rd, 2009
No one can escape the sins of the past.
Although many people will be thrilled that a James Lee Burke film has been released with a cast of great actors, the actual film will be a major disappointment, for the fans of the book as well as newcomers.
In a small Louisiana town, former alcoholic detective Dave Robicheaux (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men) is investigating the death of a number of young women. He immediately suspects Julie "Baby Feet" Balboni (John Goodman, Speed Racer), a local crooked businessman with underworld connections. Before long, Robicheaux finds himself caught up in the local production of a major film, and drunken lead actor Elrod Sykes (Peter Sarsgaard, Jarhead), and the case starts to swing out of control.
In the Electric Mist features a problem shared by many novel adaptations on film. Viewers who have never read the novel feel as though they are missing crucial inside information. Characters arrive with insufficient information, and their relationships are never fully clear. Surely, these viewers say, we'd enjoy the movie so much more if we had actually read the book and knew what was going on.
Fans of the book experience a different problem. Because they already know the characters and situations, the failures and weaknesses of the book are simply highlighted. They are able to fill in the gaps, but are also aware of the good things that are missing.
Should anyone see the film? Maybe. In many ways, it's not a complete travesty. Tommy Lee Jones revisits familiar territory, but puts in a good performance here. Peter Sarsgaard is also excellent as a drunken movie star, though many other great actors are wasted as well. John Goodman never really gets the accent down, and he lacks the physical presence to make his character believable. All of the women are relegated to the background as well: Kelly McDonald is capable of so much more than this.
Unfortunately, some good acting simply can't make up for the gaps, skips, and dead moments. The main thrust of the film at the beginning is the investigation of the murdered women, but it becomes a minor afterthought in the second half of the film. There is a surprising death of a character, but it seems to have almost no impact on the narrative or the other characters. Worst of all, Robicheaux's visions of the civil war general are never properly explained. They are a surreal element in an otherwise straightforward film, and it lacks the impact I imagine it must have had in the novel. Overall, it feels like a TV movie with an A list cast, which means it's watchable but hardly worth the price of admission.
On the most part, the Blu-Ray disc looks fairly good. The colors and black levels are acceptable, but there is a horrible curse looming over many of the brighter scenes: edge enhancement. Here, the edge enhancement is both blatant and distracting, which shouldn't be necessary in a high definition transfer. The sound is better, though I found it ultimately unforgettable. There aren't any extras on the disc, as though the good folk at Image really just wanted to get In the Electric Mist out so they could move on to bigger and better things. I'm sure they will.
In reading up on In the Electric Mist, there are a lot of rumblings about trouble on the set and a struggle between director Bertrand Tavernier (Fresh Bait) and the production team. That would explain why this is an incomplete vision, not only when stacked up against the novel, but as a film as well. Either way, I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone. Instead, you should probably just go read the book. I hear it's great. If you have to watch it, you may as well watch the Blu-Ray, as it looks prettier.
Guilty on quite a few charges.
Review content copyright © 2009 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R