There are three or four different films trying to fight for attention in this Stateside-sortie by revered French director Bertrand Tavernier. Not even a customary towering performance from Tommy Lee Jones as a detective investigating a serial killer in the Louisiana Bayou can help to hold together the mixed up narrative. Still, Jones is a draw and the novelist James Lee Burke also has a considerable following, so all may not be lost this side of the Pond. Prospects in Europe look brighter due to Tavernier's reputation.
Clearly Bertrand Tavernier, an auteur with a considerable reputation in Europe, harbors a strong affection for certain aspects of American culture. He gave us, after all, the superb Round Midnight featuring the great jazz tenor sax Dexter Gordon.
This time around, the Bayou in Southern Louisana forms the background and almost becomes a character in the film, which sees Tommy Lee Jones as a detective and Vietnam veteran Dave Robicheaux hunting down a serial killer who has been responsible for the deaths of several young women. Jones’s careworn character bemoans all the corruption and mayhem of the world he inhabits.
Into the mix, (adapted from the novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke) comes a decomposed black man in chains from the marshes. In are thrown some references (not in the original) to Hurricane Katrina.
Robicheaux, in an eminently watchable performance from Tommy Lee Jones, is not only wrestling with the conundrum of the current case, but also has to confront demons from his past that may link the two investigations.
Tavernier surrounds Jones with a solid cast, including John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Mary Steenburgen, Kelly Macdonald and director John Sayles in a cameo (as a film director, what else?). Goodman plays a racketeer who makes his ill gotten gains from murky reconstruction deals as a result of the hurricane and looks as if he could have wandered in from the Coen Brothers’s No Country For Old Men.
Besides the backdrop, music also plays a significant part in whipping up the atmosphere—the score combines rollicking zydeco as well as country music as Tavernier immerses himself in local lore.
Apparently the production has suffered a few differences of vision since it was finished in 2007. Tavernier has insisted that the film shown outside of the United States and at its premiere at the recent Berlin Film Festival is his approved version. In the US a shorter cut (shorter by 15 minutes) is going quickly to dvd after a limited theatrical outing.
Whatever one you see, however, there are too many subplots going on to make it work other than as a mildly intriguing curiosity.
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Mary Steenburgen, Kelly Macdonald and Ned Beatty
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Screenwriters: Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski
Producers: Michael Fitzgerald and Frédéric Bourboulon
Rating: R for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity.
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: February 20 ltd.