Monday, March 16, 2009

In the Electric Mist

As everyone who's interested knows by now, this movie has an outstanding cast and director yet went straight to DVD.

What happened? I don't know, but after watching the film, I have a few ideas. For one thing, the book it's based on, James Lee Burke's In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead, is a long, twisty, complex novel that would be next to impossible to film as written. So major characters were dropped, and all too obviously the final cut of the movie has lost a lot of stuff that was originally filmed for inclusion.

For another thing, one of the appeals of the book is the writing itself, something you can't capture in a movie. The use of voiceover narration is a good try, but it comes mainly at the beginning and at the end. I thought it worked very well, and a little more might have helped.

Also, this isn't a typical action movie, so it might have been a hard sell. No explosions, no car chases. Things unfold at a leisurely pace, which worked just fine for me but maybe not for everyone. No special effects, either. This ain't Spiderman 4. There's violence, all right, but it's usually quick and clean and unspectacular.

Some people might even find the plot hard to follow. I didn't, but then I've read the book. Judy, however, has never read anything by Burke, and she had no trouble keeping up. She's pretty smart, sure, but I don't think anybody should have trouble with the storyline.

Maybe some people have trouble with the woo-woo stuff. Again, I'd read the book and knew what to expect. Judy hadn't, and she caught on right away. I thought it was pretty effective. (It did bother both Judy and me that Jones and Levon Helm both say "cal'vry" instead of "cavalry," but oh well.)

My problem was with stuff that wasn't there. Ned Beatty's character gets short shrift. There must have been more than a couple of scenes with him, but if so, they were cut. I think there surely were many more scenes with the guy who plays the movie star, Elrod Sykes. The epilogue makes it obvious that there was much more about him and Alafair, but it's not in the movie. For that matter, Alafair's part must originally have been bigger as well. Mary Steenbergurgen is beautiful but has nothing to do as Bootsie.

Tommy Lee Jones is the guy people have hoped for years would play Dave Robicheaux, and he's just about perfect (we won't discuss his Louisiana accent, or anybody else's as far as that goes). I think some reviewers complained that he's too old for the part, but the Dave of the books has got to be just about Jones's age.
(Digression: I have to confess that I was occasionally distracted by the vagaries of Jones's hairpiece.)

The photography's beautiful, and the swamps look great. I could have done with more of post-Katrina New Orleans, though. And I could have done with more of John Sayles as a movie producer. He was a hoot.

All in all, I have to say that Judy and I both enjoyed the movie. Even chopped up, it's a good bit better than a lot of what gets into the theaters now. Check it out.

And finally, The Electric Mist would be a great name for a rock band.


Randy Johnson said...

I haven't seen this one, not being a big fan of Burke's work. I DID like the novel though.
Jones is an interesting choice, much better than Alec Baldwin though. Heaven's Prisoner I remember only liking one thing about and that was Teri Hatcher's balcony scene.

Fred Blosser said...

I've never paid careful attention, but I have a feeling that a lot of people say "calvery." I always flinched a little for the same reason when critics made a big deal out of W saying "nucular."

I may be the only person who liked Alec Baldwin as Robicheaux.

Based on evidence in the books, I figure Dave was born around 1940, making him a little older than Jones, but not enough difference to populate the head of a pin.

All-time worst movie Cajun impersonation: Jean Claude Van Damme in HARD TARGET, who made no attempt to disguise his Belgian accent.

Now why do you suppose the movie title dropped the rest of the title of the novel?

Unknown said...

I liked Baldwin in HEAVEN'S PRISONERS, but I didn't really think of him as Robicheaux. He was just wrong in age and looks. Judy and I saw the movie in the theater and liked it pretty well.

My theory is that the whole title was too long for the marquee. Or maybe the movie folks thought it was too hard for us to remember.

Vince said...

I would love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting in which someone tries to convince a studio to release a movie with "Confederate Dead" in the title.

The European cut of the film, director Bertrand Tavernier's preferred version, runs 14 minutes longer and is apparently more impressionistic. I wasn't blown away by this one, but it certainly deserved better.

Unknown said...

Well, more impressionism isn't what's needed. Or it's not what I needed.

I have to agree about "Confederate Dead." I'm surprised it got on the book cover.

Unknown said...

FYI, neither Clete nor Helen are in the book. Clete is such a memorable character that a number of people recollect that he appeared in the book IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH CONFEDERATE DEAD, even though he didn't.

Unknown said...

That would explain it.

Anonymous said...

So would The Confederate Dead. Putmeon the list of people who liked Heaven's prisoners with Alec Baldwin.


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