Sat 3 Aug 2013
Some films deserve a better fate. This is in my opinion the case with ‘In the Electric Mist’ which is totally unknown to most of the cinema fans because it seems to not having been released in cinema theaters in the US. This is a very hard to understand decision, as this is a much better than the average detective movies, better than many other similar films released around that date, it’s well acted, beautifully filmed, directed by a well-known French director (Bertrand Tavernier) and with supreme star Tommy Lee Jones as lead actor. What do I know about the art of film distribution, though? Probably not too much.
The story is set in the swamps of Louisiana and features detective David Robicheaux which some may remember as having been played by Alec Baldwin in Heaven’s Prisoner more than a decade before this film was made (the character is inspired by the same series of novels). The atmosphere of the Cajun country with its fogs and smells, legends and collection of unique characters makes for a good background for mysteries and hidden secrets and Tavernier makes a good use of it in a way that predicts Beasts of the Southern Wild. Nobody is surprised when generals and soldiers from the Civil War fought more than a century before show up from behind the fogs, and the phantoms of the older conflicts of race and class mix with the personal daemons the heroes have to face.
Watching Tommy Lee Jones playing the justice-driven detective (although his means are not always really orthodox) is always a pleasure, and to a large extent the film relies on him. He is helped by an excellent supporting cast, with John Goodman featuring as one of the lead bad guys, and Mary Steenburgen as the classy wife of Robicheaux. While the script does not really close perfectly every corner of the story, there is cursive story telling in the style of the big detective American novels of the 40s, and the heroes have the same naive faith that the good cause of justice is worth risking everything to have it prevail. Bertrand Tavernier has filmed with European lens a very American story in a very American landscape, and despite the relative low-key ending (maybe the weak part of the movie) it’s a good film to look for and watch.