Spring fever is here. I can tell. I always enjoy the initial bursts of green and brief hours of almost-warm temperatures, but nature's renaissance always does something bad to my psyche. I get depressed. Apathetic. Negative. And this year I also got the mother of all head colds to go with it. So the thing to do when you get like I am now is not to see In the Electric Mist. Wait until you're in a more charitable mood than I.
Someone else will have to write the post that says what a terrific film was made from one of James Lee Burke's finest books, because I'm pretty sure that even without the head cold and clouds of apathy draining my will to blog, that was not a good movie. I've seen worse, sure, but the disappointment is intense when a mediocre film is derived from a great book.
And no one can blame the actors. Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as Dave Robicheaux (but I confess he has always been my first choice to tackle the role), Mary Steenburgen fulfills my mental image of Bootsy. Levon Helm's take on General John Bell Hood will never be equalled (and only partly because Hood rarely is a movie character). Ned Beatty as a scum-sucking Southern baddie? Natch, he does his usual bang-up job. Even musician Buddy Guy is rightly cast as the knowing bluesman Hogman Patin. John Goodman as 'Babyfeet' Balboni should have been perfect as the NOLA mobster but Goodman phoned in his performance (and didn't pay attention even then, his accent wavered so badly) so he's the only one of the cast who let me down. And I don't even blame him, because if daily production work was as choppy and incoherent as the film turned out to be I wouldn't be turning in my best work either. And rumor has it there were some troubles during production, notably between Tommy Lee Jones and directer Bernard Tavernier.
Granted, there are some 15 minutes of the director's cut missing from the US dvd. But I really don't think the missing minutes would correct all the problems. It might smooth some of the jerky transitions, explain a little more of the story, maybe even fix the lousy ending, but I don't know that a mere 15 minutes would add the necessary depth to the characters or restore a real sense of suspense to the mystery. When a viewer can barely remember the name and face of the guy who turns out to be the villain chopping up women, it's hard to work up more than a mild 'is that right?' reaction to learning he's the baddie.
Only if you're a fan of the Dave Robicheaux series and have read the terrific book the film is based on, In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead, will the movie make any sense to you, but I'd be surprised if it satisfied you. It did not me. Such a shame, with that great cast of actors doing their darnedest (all but Goodman) and that evocative setting, not to have found an equally outstanding screenwriter and a director to do them, and author Burke, justice.