It is a drama/fantasy film based on the novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke. It is directed by Bertrand Tavernier, written by Jerzy Kromolowski & Mary Olson-Kromolowski, and stars Tommy Lee Jones in the lead role of Dave Robicheaux.

Detective Dave Robicheaux (Tommy Lee Jones)is investigating the murder of a young woman and has a chance encounter with a pair of Hollywood stars Elrod Sykes (Peter Sarsgaard) and his girlfriend Kelly Drummond (Kelly Macdonald) who are in the small town to film a Civil War film. Due to his irratic driving, Dave determines Elrod is driving his Lambourgini drunk and sets to arrest him. Elrod, objecting to being sent to jail tells Dave of a decayed corpse that he and Kelly had found up in the mountains. When Dave goes to investigate he remembers a murder he had witnessed as a child where a chained prisoner was shot in the swamp and disappeared into the bog. The discovery opens a string of events that ties to several murders in that area that had occurred recently mostly to young runaways and prostitutes. The clues seem to point to a former friend of Dave's, Julie "Baby Feet" Balboni (John Goodman) whose ties with the mafia had caused the two to drift apart and become strained enemies. Julie denies knowing the prostitute whose murder is being investigated, however Elrod's story does not corroborate, leading Dave to suspect more to the story. But with little to go on, he instead travels to the film site and meets the producer Michael Goldman (John Sayles) who states that while Baby Feet is helping to fund the film, he is not a co-producer as he had said.

Meanwhile, Dave's home life is disrupted by Elrod and Kelly who begin turning up regularly, almost every time Elrod being drunk, prompting Dave to take pity on him as he too is a struggling alcoholic. His daughter, Alafair (Alana Locke) looks up to Elrod and admires him, however his stern, but kind wife Bootsie (Mary Steenburgen) has concerns about Dave spending too much time around him. The discovery of a second body prompts the FBI to become involved in the case, and Dave is partnered with an agent Rosie Gomez (Justina Machado) whose insight into the case gives her Dave's respect and the pair team up to solve the case. Dave attends the birthday party for Goldman and though drinking Dr. Pepper, becomes terribly uncoordinated during his drive home and crashes his truck, sending him off in a daze to the forest he encounters a camp of Confederate soldiers, and their commanding officer General John Bell Hood (Levon Helm) who apparently wishes to help Dave with his journey to solve these murders. When he awakens from his daze, he learns from Gomez that his drinks had been laced with LSD. Dave's partner, Lou is found dead, apparently by shooting himself with a shotgun. Dave's queries to why Lou shot himself with the shotgun out of depression despite the easier handgun are shrugged off that he was drunk and didn't know better. Elrod drunkenly takes a boat out on a run of the swamp with Kelly, calling Dave when the pair get the boat caught in crab nets. Dave gives Kelly his coat as it is pouring rain, and a mysterious gunman shoots her in the chest, mistaking her for him. Bell offers advise regarding the murders recently and Dave moves forward, shaking off the feelings of guilt over Kelly's death. Elrod moves in for a while so Dave can be an A.A. buddy for him, and a story from an alleged pimp corroborates a suspect Murphy Doucet (Bernard Hocke) who, with his partner Twinkie Lemoyne (Ned Beatty) are responsible for the death of Dewitt Prejean, the skeleton found in the swamp, Dave arrests the Doucet who gets out on bail and kidnaps Alafair. Gomez and Dave force Baby Feet into telling them about a campsite the Doucet owns and the pair head there to capture or kill him. Gomez is startled by Doucet and instinctively shoots him. Dave plants a throw-away pistol on the unarmed villain to insure that she is cleared of any charges of murdering him. They free Alafair and return home.

Months later, Dave, who had stopped seeing visions of Bell after the case was solved determines that he was a figment of his imagination, a lingering spirit to help him through the most difficult case of his life. He moves on with his life, while Baby Feet, according to Dave was arrested for an issue that no one would have suspected, not as a mafia criminal, but as a tax dodger. Elrod too moves on with his life, leaving his alcohol behind, he gives Alafair a small role in the War film, and claims that she alone was responsible for its success. As Dave reflects on the recent events, the screen fades to black.

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