Saturday, March 28, 2009

"In the Electric Mist": Tommy Lee Jones plays a veteran facing his own bayou demons


Some daring independent films are going direct to DVD at the same time they appear in selected film festivals, perhaps with a very small platform theatrical release at first. Image Entertainment apparently can handle some pretty substantial independent films this way.

Such is the case with "In the Electric Mist", the drama-fantasy based on the novel “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead” by James Lee Burke, directed by Bertrand Tavernier and adapted by Jerzy Kromolowski (screenplay) & Mary Olson-Kromolowski.

This movie seems to belong to veteran Tommy Lee Jones, playing Dave Robicheaux, a deputy sheriff in Iberia Parish, Louisiana. He is drawn into a mystery involving a number deaths of young women, and then learns from an actor Elrod Sykes (a disheveled instance of Peter Sarsgaard) whom he pulls over for DUI, about a mysterious death of a black man (Chukwuma Onwuchekwa) in the bayou, ringing bells from the past. Jones’s character is led into a personal odyssey that will test his grip on reality. At one point he encounters an encampment of confederate soldiers from a local film set and wonder if he is alive. The movie mixes the embedded movie world with its outer reality, as bodies pile up and Jones wonders if he killed them. John Sayles plays producer Goldman, and John Goodman plays magnate “Baby Feet” Balboni, and James Gamon plays the other mobster Ben Hebert. Justina Machado is masterful as the sidekick assistant Rosie, and Mary Steenburgen and Kelly MacDonald impress also.

The concept of taking a veteran person in law enforcement or intelligence and working through his own demons has occurred to me, and actually forms the outer plot of one of my novel manuscripts. In my work, I wind up taking him on a “road trip” into a kind of Armageddon, which I called “the Path Pit.” With an older, grizzled character there is a lot more backstory to provide existential conflicts. Yet, the reader or viewer often identifies with someone young and appealing. Here, Tommy Lee Jones is so dominating that he pulls the movie off.

The film does offer some shots of devastated, post-Katrina New Orleans and the script refers to the 1965 Hurricane Betsy.

Another film that went to DVD and theaters simultaneously was HDNet's "Bubble" from Steven Soderbergh and Mark Cuban (2006).

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