Why doesn't Hollywood ever learn? Time and again, they take films away from their filmmakers, butchering the movies with recuts after test screenings. It's usually a desperate attempt to make difficult and unique films more palatable to a mass commercial audience, but the results are often mediocre to disastrous. 'In the Electric Mist' is likely another such victim of Tinseltown commerciality. Shorn by a good 15 minutes for US audiences (the domestic version now runs 102 minutes, versus the 117 minutes of the International director's cut), the film isn't wholly incomprehensible but it is nevertheless compromised. I doubt 'In the Electric Mist' was ever a masterpiece, but this Blu-ray version (which features the domestic cut only) doesn't help its cause much.
Based on the acclaimed novel "In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead" by James Lee Burke, Tommy Lee Jones stars as grizzled detective Dave Robicheaux. A recovering alcoholic (and borderline unstable), Robicheaux enjoys having dialogues with the deceased Confederate General John Bell Hood (Levon Helm), for example. After a series of gruesome murders of young women rock the locals, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina washes up the remains of a 40-year-old black man, Robicheaux launches an investigation, one that leads him deep into the heart of prejudice, injustice, and corruption.
'In the Electric Mist' is hardly a bad film. Less a straight thriller than a mood piece, director Bertrand Tavernier utilizes his excellent cinematographer, Bruno de Keyzer, to full effect, creating a vivid realization of post-Katrina New Orleans. Tavernier is also less interested in throwing twists and turns at us than he is in slowly leading us through Robicheaux's thematic obsession -- that the ghosts of supposedly long-dead Reconstructionist ideology are still alive and haunting America's cultural consciousness. If occasionally, dramatically inert, this is often a fascinating film, and never less than beautiful to look at.
Tavernier also has an ace in Jones. The craggy-faced actor is born to play parts like this. Robicheaux isn't exactly lawless, but he also isn't above breaking the law if it means ensuring "justice." Jones is also able to play Robicheaux so multi-layered that it's possible for us to believe a detective so experienced and smart would miss such obvious clues -- the point seems to be that Robicheaux's assets are also his flaws. Add to that a fine supporting cast -- various possible suspects show up throughout, including John Goodman, Peter Skaarsgard, Ned Beatty, and Buddy Guy -- and 'In the Electric Mist' holds our attention, if only because we know that this caliber of actor wouldn't commit to a film unless it has something interesting to say.
Unfortunately, the missing 15 minutes of 'In the Electric Mist' muck up Tavernier's narrative and cinematic goals. The conclusion of the US cut has been rejiggered, and though I have not seen the director's version, I found the ending of this version to be phony and obvious. The pseudo-ironic denouenement falls flat, and the choppy editing of the third act also suggests the director's cut would have fleshed out many of the characters, story arcs, and loose ends. It's a shame. 'In the Electric Mist' was likely never perfect, or even a must-see sleeper, but I bet it's a whole lot more satisfying in its original form. Seen here, it's an interesting, if quite scattered, modern film noir that just barely misses the mark.
Image Entertainment has produced a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) for 'In the Electric Mist.' This is a very good-looking movie, and it gets a good transfer to boot.
The image surpassed my expectations (which were admittedly lukewarm). The print is in wonderful shape, with nice blacks and a smooth but still punchy contrast that runs clean across the entire grayscale. Colors are intentionally moody but deep enough, giving the image a rich look. (Only fleshtones appear a bit too red.) Depth and detail are quite strong even for a new release, though slightly harsh fall-off to black lessens shadow delineation. The encode is pretty clean with only some light edge enhancement and noise noticeable. 'In the Electric Mist' looks very nice indeed.
A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is included, along with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround option. The film's sound design doesn't really offer much of a workout, but this is a fine soundtrack for what it is.
Surround use is generally meager. Only sporadic discrete effects liven the mix, though I did like some effective moments of sustained ambiance and good score bleed. Dialogue is the star of this show, and it sounds pronounced and clear in the mix -- I never had to worry about volume levels and the like. Low bass is adequate and sometimes forceful as needed, with nice, clean high-end. 'In the Electric Mist' is no demo soundtrack, but it's well suited for the undemanding material.
Nope, not a single extra. Not even a trailer.
'In the Electric Mist' is almost good enough to qualify as a sleeper. Alas, Image Entertainment only includes the truncated 102-minute US cut (a longer director's version was released internationally), and the final result suffers due to some choppy editing and a lame, commercialized ending. This Blu-ray delivers a nice transfer and audio, but a complete lack of supplements. 'In the Electric Mist' only really warrants a rental.