Jazz-loving Tavernier’s serial killer movie has a weird sensibility that marries cosmopolitan funk with a Paris-styled conjuring of the post-Katrina Louisiana Bayou. Tavernier borrows portraiture and mood from Mamet, David Lynch and John Sayles and emerges with poker-faced detective named Dave Robicheaux (Tommie Lee Jones) who timelessly inhabits a strange and choppy netherworld.
In New Iberia Parish, former New Orleans detective and Vietnam vet Robichaeux, a swampland Philip Marlowe who owns a tackle shop, looks into the murder of a white hooker deviously named Cherry LeBlanc. Another woman’s body turns up, as do the bones of an escaped black con dating back decades (“40-year-old nigger trouble,” say locals). Robicheaux’s connect-the-dots investigation pushes him into the LSD-spiked world of Julie Balboni, known as “Baby Feet” (a gargantuan John Goodman), a hedonistic trucking mogul. Baby Feet is wrapped up with a visiting Hollywood film crew that includes a drunken actor named Elrod Sykes (Peter Sarsgaard) who talks in riddles and dreams of a Confederate general. In the background are crooked cops and a mysterious moneyman named Twinky LeMoyne (Ned Beatty).
Tavernier brews an idiosyncratic regional gumbo into which he adds ghosts (a nice cameo from Levon Helm as Gen. John Bell Hood), Robicheaux’s Cajun hymn humming wife Bootsie (Mary Steenburgen), and their adopted daughter (with a pet raccoon named “Tripod”). It’s the swamp gas bayou of the America-loving French mind, which aside from a maudlin final 10 minutes is never dull.
Based on mystery writer James Lee Burke’s “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead,” part of his “Dave Robicheaux” series.