Blu-ray Review: In the Electric Mist (2008)

Venturing Out of the Bayou
And Onto DVD & Blu-ray

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Maybe it just works better in Europe.

Acclaimed, award-winning French director Bertrand Tavernier's adaptation of the sixth Dave Robicheaux mystery-- In the Electric Mist-- penned by screenwriting team Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski from the novel by James Lee Burke somehow managed to lure the director back to making an all English language feature and also dubiously scored a Berlin International Film Festival Golden Berlin Bear nomination for his effort. And if somehow you're able to make it all the way through the film, something tells me you'll be scratching your head as well...

Initially slated for a theatrical run due to its incredibly talented cast headed up by Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones, Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen, Oscar nominee Ned Beaty, and critically lauded stars Peter Sarsgaard, John Goodman, and Kelly Macdonald that even boasts a cameo from American indie auteur John Sayles somehow fizzles rather than sizzles in its hum-drum mystery which takes place in the Louisiana bayou.

It is set in a society still ravaged by Hurricaine Katrina and indeed the event is referenced numerous times subtextually and involves a heartrending visit by our no-nonsense, recovering alcoholic detective Dave Robicheaux (Jones) while trying to string together clues in solving the gruesome cases of two dead young women. And in doing so, the film tries to move beyond the limits of its police procedural crime and punishment genre by venturing unsuccessfully into the realm of psychological thriller as Robicheaux and other characters commune with the ghosts of dead in a few downright odd hallucinatory scenes that don't quite gel with the film's uneven tone.

Throughout Mist, I was never sure if it was aspiring to be the type of modern day neo-noir given a Cajun makeover that worked so well in Robert Altman's underrated The Gingerbread Man and even some of the superior round-about mysteries of John Sayles (Lone Star, Silver City) or if the film is a trippier gothic piece. Sadly, it never manages to engage us on either level or on a simply casual one in spite of its the talented ensemble that's bogged down by uninspired dialogue (example: "Elrod's a shitbird, but I love him."). The script excels when it appears as though it's taken directly in voice over narration form from the novel as Robicheaux describes an A.A. friend who always called at night until one night someone had to call for him.

Further muddled by lackluster, poorly lit cinematography that manages to suck the ethereal beauty right out of the southland (making it a crisp yet waste in a Blu-ray transfer) and even filming the characters appearing as movie stars on a location shoot (Saarsgard and Macdonald) in an unflattering light-- everything about the film feels forced and inauthentic right down to its straightforward conclusion.

Granted, it has its moments thanks to 3:10 to Yuma's composer Marco Beltrami as well as a spirited turn by John Goodman bringing some of his Coen Brothers flavor to a role as New Orleans gangster "Baby Feet" Balboni that makes him sorely missed whenever he's offscreen. Yet, more often than not, other actors such as Steenburgen (as Jones' wife) are given little to do but simply go through the motions in underwritten roles and unfortunately as a whole, it's weaker than your average made-for-television mystery of the week. Again, this is especially unbearable given the extraordinary talent involved, excellent location, atmospheric jazz by five-time Grammy Award winning musician Buddy Guy that's all wasted in the finished product.

Again, while it may be better in translation overseas or for those who aren't acquainted with what a real Cajun set film should look and sound like nor the exceptional work offered by the cast and other high quality offerings from the distributors Image Entertainment-- ultimately it's not enough to recommend this one and instead I'd suggest going with the book by bestselling author James Lee Burke in its place.