When I’m in the supermarket at 3AM paying for some terrible boxed product to satisfy whatever post-bar craving has possessed me for the evening, I inevitably look in awe upon the many rows of paperback thrillers. The names of both author and novel often seem interchangeable, and the covers rely on geometric color shapes and indistinguishable images Photoshopped into oblivion.
One of the better-known and respected shelf-fillers is James Lee Burke. His novel In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead sees frequent protagonist Dave Robicheaux on the trail of a serial killer. A run-in with film star Elrod Sykes points his investigation towards another unsolved case. Without having read the book, I’m guessing that, as Shane Black already knows, the two mysteries are the same case.
The upcoming film version of In The Electric Mist will star Tommy Lee Jones as Robicheaux, Peter Saarsgard as Sykes, and will feature notable large men John Goodman, Ned Beatty, Tom Sizemore and Mary Steenburgen in addition to James Gammon, Levon Helm and Kelly McDonald. Good cast, which doesn’t mean this might not become a vehicle Ashley Judd wants the keys to.
But then there’s the director, who definitely gets my attention: Bertrand Tavernier.
Material like this is nothing new for Tavernier; in 1981 he released the best Jim Thompson adaptation: Coup de Torchon, based on the novel Pop. 1280. Being the massive Thompson fan that I am, I shouldn’t talk shit about the current crop of thrillers, as they’re carrying on his tradition, occasionally quite well. Like the best mystery/thriller writers today, you could read between Thompson’s lines and find a trenchant undercurrent of cultural analysis and a perceptive vision of what makes us human.
Very few people have adapted Thompson with any facility, much less improved upon the material as Tavernier did with Coup de Torchon by transplanting the action to colonial West Africa. The director also had the good sense/fortune to feature Philippe Noiret, whose appearance in Electric Mist would suggest career-ending things about his embalmer.
The Thompson adaptation had a real sense of the metaphysical and unreal, compounded by the serene yet desolate African setting; it’s far more than a simple thriller. Given the equally mystic potential of Robicheaux’s Louisiana stomping ground, and the book’s considerable dream quotient, I hope that Tavernier will take a similar tack this time.
Word from Tavernier’s producer has it that this film "also poses questions of a philosophical nature" and that "like [Philip Noiret in Coup de Torchon]…the hero…seeks out the truth and discovers things that go beyond him. It’s a film that would have meant a lot to Noiret."