In the Electric Mist
dir Bertrand Tavernier
scr Jerzy Kromolowski, Mary Olson-Kromolowski
with Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Kelly Macdonald, Mary Steenburgen, Justina Machado, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Ned Beatty, John Sayles, Levon Helm, Walter Breaux, Bernard Hocke
release US 20.Feb.09;
UK 8.Feb.10 dvd
09/US TF1 1h57
In the Electric Mist
Green bayou: Machado and Jones

goodman sarsgaard macdonald
Berlin film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
In the Electric Mist French filmmaker Tavernier captures Louisiana with a remarkable eye. Even though the film meanders a bit, the skilful direction and camerawork combine with strong acting to create an engaging, insinuating thriller.

Dave (Jones) is a detective looking into the violent murder of a prostitute when movie star Elrod (Sarsgaard), filming nearby in a swamp, stumbles across the decades-old skeleton of a chained-up black man. In Dave's mind, the murders are linked, and as he questions a local mobster (Goodman), a partying investor (Beatty) and the film's director (Sayles), both cases get increasingly haunting. Dave also imagines that he sees a Confederate general (Helm) roaming the bayou around his house. And within this swirling mist, things start to make sense.

It's rare to see a murder mystery play out in such an unrushed way, as Tavernier quietly adopts the rhythms of the Deep South (and Jones himself) to dig into the culture, finding ghosts from the past and linking them to present-day conundrums. This is masterful, gripping filmmaking, even when it seems to be going nowhere, because every shot reveals us something about the characters and the society. And by the time the mysteries are solved, whodunit isn't really that important.

Jones is, of course, great at playing world-weary cops, and the setting sets Dave apart from similar characters he played in No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah. Solid, textured support from the likes of Sarsgaard, Steenburgen (as his wife), Macdonald (Elrod's actress girlfriend), Machado (an FBI agent) and Vince (a local cop) bring each scene to vivid life. And the film is completely stolen by Goodman, who deliciously chomps scenery as the larger-than-large Baby Feet.

But it's the way the film combines dark history with a Lynchian comical-surrealism that makes it worth seeing. Jones' noir narration is packed with observations and memories that work together to solve the cases in eerily personal ways, exploring racial issues in ways we rarely see on screen. And as Dave descends from his almost saintly pedestal into a man with a grim mission, we can't help but understand that the only way to deal with the past is to face up to it.

cert 15 themes, language, grisliness 7.Feb.09 bff

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall