The film has never been released cinematically in the United States, only in Europe and Asia. It was shown twice on just one evening in author Burke's hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana. A trimmed-down version (102:00 minutes NTSC), cut by the studio, was released direct-to-DVD in the United States. A longer director's cut version (112:23 minutes) was released in the rest of the world and premiered at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2009, the director's cut version won the Grand Prix at the first "Festival International du Film Policier de Beaune", which is the continuation of the "Festival du Film Policier de Cognac." It opened on April 15, 2009 in France to positive reviews while reviews for the American version were mixed (60 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes).
Iberia Parish's Sheriff 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). They are in the small town to make a Civil War film.
Due to Elrod's erratic driving, Dave determines that the actor is driving drunk and decides to arrest him. Objecting to being sent to jail, Elrod tells Dave of a decayed corpse that he and Kelly had found in the swamp.
Dave goes to investigate while remembering a murder he had witnessed as a teenager where a chained prisoner was shot in the swamp and disappeared into the bog. The discovery is soon tied to several murders in that area that had occurred recently, mostly to young runaways and prostitutes. The clues seem to point to Julie "Baby Feet" Balboni (John Goodman), whose ties with the mafia had caused Dave and him to drift apart and become enemies.
Balboni denies knowing the prostitute whose murder is being investigated. With little to go on, Dave visits 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 with Elrod being drunk. This prompts Dave to take pity on him as he, too, is a struggling alcoholic. His daughter, Alafair (Alana Locke) looks up to movie star Elrod, but wife Bootsie (Mary Steenburgen) has concerns.
The discovery of a second body prompts the FBI to become involved in the case. Dave is partnered with agent Rosie Gomez (Justina Machado). Dave attends a birthday party for Goldman and, though drinking Dr Pepper, becomes terribly uncoordinated during his drive home and crashes his pickup truck, sending him off in a daze to the forest. There 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 in a hospital, Dave learns from Gomez that his drink had been laced with LSD.
Elrod drunkenly takes a boat out on the Bayou with Kelly, calling Dave when the boat engines get caught in gill nets. Dave gives Kelly his coat, as it is pouring rain, and a mysterious gunman shoots her in the chest, mistaking her for him.
General Hood offers advice again and Dave shakes off the feelings of guilt over Kelly's death. Elrod moves in for a while so Dave can be his AA sponsor.
Dave's cop friend, Lou Girard, is found dead, apparently by shooting himself with a shotgun.
On the last occasion that Dave sees General Hood, the general and a few of his Confederate comrades are breaking camp and preparing to leave. They are having a group photograph taken and the general invites Dave to join them in the group.
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 Doucet using a planted knife as evidence, but Doucet gets out on bail and kidnaps Dave's young daughter Alafair.
Gomez and Dave go to Baby Feet's residence and force him into telling them about a campsite Doucet owns. The pair head there. Gomez is startled by Doucet and instinctively shoots him. Dave plants a throw-away pistol on the unarmed villain to ensure 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 General Hood 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 addiction behind; he gives Alafair a small role in the Civil War film, and claims that she had been his salvation.
As the story ends, Alafair is looking through a book on the Civil War when she comes across a photograph of General Hood and his soldiers. We see a close-up of the photo; standing in the back, among the Confederate soldiers, is Dave Robicheaux. It is the photo taken during what Dave had supposed was a vision.Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux
John Goodman as Julie 'Baby Feet' Balboni
Peter Sarsgaard as Elrod Sykes
Kelly Macdonald as Kelly Drummond
Mary Steenburgen as Bootsie Robicheaux
Justina Machado as Rosie Gomez
Ned Beatty as Twinky LeMoyne
James Gammon as Ben Hebert
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Lou Girard
Levon Helm as Gen. John Bell Hood
Bernard Hocke as Murphy Doucet
Alana Locke as Alafair Robicheaux
Buddy Guy as Sam “Hogman” Patin
Chukwuma Onwuchekwa as Dewitt Prejean
John Sayles as Michael Goldman
The film was released on DVD on March 3, 2009 and sold 104,902 units which brought in $1,905,214 in revenue.
The film opened at fourth place in DVD rentals for the week of March 2–8, 2009, with a rental index of 61.21.