New Iberia, Louisiana. Detective Dave Robicheaux is hot on the trail of a serial killer targeting young women. After returning home from investigating another heinous crime, Dave meets Elrod Sykes, a Hollywood star filming a movie in Louisiana. The film is backed by the local criminal elite, led by Baby Feet Balboni. Elrod tells Dave about a gruesome discovery he made in a swamp – the decomposed body of a chained black man. This finding triggers memories from Dave’s past. As Dave gets closer to the killer, the killer gets closer to Dave’s family…
Based on James Lee Burke’s novel “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead,” this film, directed by Bertrand Tavernier in 2009, offers a classic yet unconventional crime story. The genesis of this film was marked by conflicts between the French director and the American producer. Consequently, two versions of the film were released – a shorter one in the United States and a longer one in France and other countries. In the United States, the film had a limited release in Louisiana, where the story is set, and was primarily available on video. The film adaptation, appearing sixteen years after the release of James Lee Burke’s book, included certain adjustments and additions. Notably, Bertrand Tavernier believed it was essential to reference Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Louisiana in 2005.
In a small Louisiana town, the mutilated body of a prostitute is discovered. She is believed to be the latest victim of a serial killer targeting young women. Dave Robicheaux has a lead on the possible suspect for these gruesome crimes and takes charge of the investigation. However, chance encounters and a series of events lead him down a path related to a crime he witnessed thirty-five years ago – a racist crime that remained unpunished.
Dave Robicheaux is not just a police officer; he is a man with his own flaws, including a past struggle with alcohol addiction. This addiction is shared by an actor whom Robicheaux apprehended for a traffic offense. The actor shares strange, possibly true, tales that could also stem from an imagination fueled by excessive drinking. Who are these Confederate soldiers the alcoholic actor claims to have seen, and whom Robicheaux is about to encounter? After collapsing, LSD traces are found in the detective’s blood. Are these hallucinations? Dreams? Journeys into another form of time or dimension? Or is Robicheaux losing his mind?
Bertrand Tavernier had a strong fascination and admiration for American cinema. He co-authored a bible for cinephiles, “Trente ans de cinéma américain,” with Jean-Pierre Coursodon, first published in 1970 and later reissued and expanded upon. He also published “Amis américains,” a massive work consisting of interviews with great directors. “In the Electric Mist” was his first fiction film shot in the United States. Before that, he co-directed a documentary, “Mississippi Blues,” in 1983, with Robert Parrish. Some may have expected shortcomings from the Lyon-based filmmaker due to his overwhelming passion and admiration for American cinema. However, this new artistic achievement proves them wrong. Tommy Lee Jones is flawless in his portrayal of a troubled man who retains his humanity despite bouts of rage and bewilderment over unexplained phenomena. The Louisiana atmosphere is impeccably captured through the soundtrack, which even features authentic musicians like Buddy Guy and Levon Helm. The film’s pacing, including well-timed pauses, enriches the narrative without impeding its flow.
Throughout this unique work, Bertrand Tavernier alludes to the humanity and values he cherished. Robicheaux and a Confederate general serve as reminders of the crucial importance of remaining true to oneself, even in the face of disastrous leadership and betrayal. Those in power are often corrupt. This dark film, infused with a touch of the supernatural, may appear simplistic or black-and-white on the surface but is far from it. It tackles themes of racism and alcoholism while exploring the past as an opportunity to restore justice. “In the Electric Mist” is a magnificent film that takes its time, prioritizing atmosphere and characters over a plot whose resolution may be less important than the journey of the characters.