James Lee Burke is a writer with a gift for creating atmosphere, and his work seems eminently suitable for adaptation to the big screen, so I expected great things from In the Elecric Mist, a 2009 film based on one of his Dave Robicheaux novels, and starring the excellent Tommy Lee Jones as Dave – a brilliant piece of casting.
The story-line is quite complicated. A young woman’s body, sadistically mutilated, is discovered, apparently the work of a serial killer. Soon afterwards Dave has a chance encounter with a man and woman who are involved in making a film set at the time of the American Civil War. The man tells Dave that he has come across some human remains, and this news takes Dave back to his youth, when he witnessed the shooting of a black man. After a series of plot twists – and Dave’s surreal encounter, after he has taken a drug-laced drink, with a Confederate soldier – he latches on to the identity of the serial killer.
The final section of the film is exciting. Dave’s daughter is kidnapped by the bad guy, and the various plot strands are pulled together pretty well. The trouble is that the first part of the film moves rather slowly, and the viewer’s enthusiasm may have waned before the action really kicks in. A pity, because Tommy Lee Jones puts in a compelling performance.
I enjoyed the evocative representation of the steamy Louisiana setting of the story, and I’m glad I watched the film. However, it’s not the masterpiece I hoped for, because of that early lack of pace, and a diffusion of interest because of the disparate elements of the story-line. Decent viewing, but in some ways a missed opportunity.