In the Electric Mist is a perfect example of how not to adapt a novel into a film. The source novel is the sixth novel in a series and the film–in a seemingly bold but utterly misguided move (much of it would be incoherent if I hadn’t once read the novel)–assumes the viewer is going to be familiar with all of the previous novels. There’s absolutely no introduction to the characters who aren’t related to the mystery–the film’s reliance on implying past knowledge is actually pretty cool, because it only relies on someone listening. But there are a bunch of characters who go without any explanation. It’s a film for fans of the novel series, which hurts it.
It’s a shame, because Tommy Lee Jones has a good role here. It allows him to do his more mannered performance, but mix in a little of that pseudo-action hero thing he does. Not a lot of it, but enough someone could cut a teaser trailer with it in there. In the Electric Mist doesn’t seem to be putting itself out there as a franchise starter, but the approach to the adaptation implies otherwise. There’s nothing particularly significant about the events in this picture–Jones meets movie stars, played by Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald, and he says he’s familiar with their work… but it’s never touched on. At no time does he seem like someone who goes to the movies a lot or sits back and watches the CW. There’s a bevy of supporting characters–John Goodman’s goateed mobster and Pruitt Taylor Vince as a cop sidekick–who don’t have any real weight. It’s impossible to imagine these characters interacting together off screen.
The film also has an incredibly silly voiceover gimmick. Jones narrates his adventure, in the past tense, simply because the film doesn’t want to have a lengthy run time. Sometimes he narrates transitions, so there don’t have to be scenes. It’s obvious and annoying.
And the mystery isn’t particularly engaging, maybe because it’s really not a mystery the way the film presents it. Jones is having hallucinations of a Civil War general advising him (these sequences are handled terribly) and they move the story more than any thought processes.
Bertrand Tavernier is a fine director. His Panavision framing–I think he went wide so it wouldn’t seem like a TV movie–is excellent. There’s some bad focusing, but otherwise the visuals are solid. Marco Beltrami’s score gets repetitive and annoying pretty quick though.
Jones is good, Goodman’s okay, Vince’s okay. Sarsgaard’s amazing–I’ve seen him before, but never turn in anything like this performance. It’s just fantastic. Macdonald’s good. Ned Beatty’s not good though, which is depressing. James Gammon’s amazing. Mary Steenburgen and Justina Machado are both good–though neither have anything to do and they really ought to. John Sayles shows up for a cameo, essaying the kind of Hollywood director who’d do a Civil War movie. He has a lot of fun.
In the Electric Mist has a bad ending. It’s already got the disadvantage of being narrated by the protagonist, but the end goes and changes the protagonist for a cute fade out. It’s an awful move.