In case you missed one of my very first posts, it bears repeating that I’m a huge James Lee Burke fan. As I explained in that previous post, the irony is that I, a New Orleans native, had never even heard of Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series until my mother-in-law, who lives in Michigan and Florida (far from Burke’s bailiwick), told me about it. Well, so what if I was a clueless Louisianian! At least I know about him now.
While I haven’t read all of his Robicheaux mysteries, I’ve perused (or listened to) many of them, and I’m in the process of reading them (or rereading them, as the case may be) from the beginning of the series. This summer, I read The Neon Rain (1987) and Heaven’s Prisoners (1988), and as soon as I’ve turned in the book proposal on which I’ve been working, I’ll plunge into Black Cherry Blues (1989). Dan and I also plan to while away the driving time between Michigan and New Orleans with a few of the audiobook versions of Burke’s Robicheaux mysteries. The great thing about them, incidentally, is that they’re narrated by Will Patton, one of my all-time favorite actors and, as a husky-voiced native Southerner, a terrific choice to speak as the flawed but noble-hearted Robicheaux.
So, in keeping with the family’s obsession with all things Burke, my hubby, my in-laws, and I watched In the Electric Mist, the latest cinematic adaptation of a Robicheaux novel, last night over a dinner of pepperoni pizza and root beer floats (a cuisine choice that has less to do with the Cajun themes of the story and more to do with a desire to be naughty). Based on the novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993) and starring Tommy Lee Jones as the inimitable Dave Robicheaux, the film is indeed entertaining. After all, it was filmed exclusively in southern Louisiana, so the setting and atmosphere are evocative and true, and the supporting roles are believably portrayed by the likes of John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Sarsgaard, Kelly Macdonald, Ned Beatty, James Gammon, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Buddy Guy. The accents are right, the scenes make me hungry and homesick, but still, something is missing.
Afterward, we all agreed that no one – not even Oscar-winning Tommy Lee Jones – has successfully portrayed the complicated Robicheaux. Alec Baldwin, who starred in Heaven’s Prisoners in 1996, seemed far too young at the time, while Jones is far too old and run-down – not so much in appearance but in attitude. Jones is tough at times, violent when necessary, and compassionate when it counts, but for most of the movie, he seems close to retirement – which is disconcerting, given that there are at least eleven more novels after this one.
Should Hollywood ever consider another Burke project, the four of us are all in agreement on who should play Dave Robicheaux – why, Will Patton, of course! His audiobook versions are incredible in every way, and as his on-screen roles illustrate, he has the perfect mix of tenacity, humor, loyalty, and energy. So, what do you say? Think Hollywood’s listening?
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