Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Spacey is irresistibly sexy in this film adaptation of John Berendt's book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; the film has an excellent cast and a certain charm, but suffers from a fatally flawed script.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

D: Clint Eastwood (1997); with Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, Jude Law, the Lady Chablis, Jack Thompson, Irma P. Hall, Dorothy Loudon, Kim Hunter, Geoffrey Lewis.

As Jim Williams, the rakish, nouveau riche antiques dealer whose homosexual proclivities include a fondness for rough trade, Spacey is smooth as lacquered satin and irresistibly sexy in a movie that has its good points, but otherwise falls flat. It’s distinctly one of those “Read the book”-type movies where the lovely storytelling got lost in the translation. In John Berendt’s bestselling book, there was much more of a narrative than in the movie; the book’s evocative descriptions lushly accented what was basically a courtroom drama. While the colorful characters come alive on the page, in the movie, they camouflage a threadbare script. Perhaps the adaptation was just a poor choice for Eastwood’s directorial abilities, or perhaps the book was a poor choice for a movie altogether – there are many flaws that nag and distract throughout. What does not distract is the art direction, which is one of the stars of the film. The interiors and exteriors, in their natural setting of Savannah, Georgia, are glimmering jewels (so lovingly rendered in the book), and they, too, help hide the unmentionable script problem. So lovely are they that one wishes to see more of them, and might be just as happy with a travelogue in which all that messy plot stuff doesn’t interfere. Cusack is an amiable enough actor, playing the role of the reporter John Kelso, who is assigned by Town & Country magazine to cover one of Jim Williams’ legendary Christmas parties. Right off the bat, the story’s famous characters start making their appearances, and they are all well-cast. In fact, the entire movie is well-cast, with the minor exception of Law, who is a fish out of water as the rough trade bad boy (and Williams’ erstwhile lover), Billy Hanson. Law is talented, but is not rough-looking enough for the small role, and never, ever approaches believability as a hard-drinking, small-time drug-dealing boho Southern “trade.” The use of Savannah locals, sometimes playing themselves, is clever and entertaining. The Lady Chablis, a local drag entertainer, has her moment in the sun playing herself – a screamingly funny pre-op transsexual whose relation to the actual story is very slim. She does, however, manage to get a large share of screen time, including the funniest scene in the movie when she crashes a cotillion for black debutantes. Jack Thompson makes us utterly forget his Aussie background as he brilliantly recreates the role of attorney Sonny Seiler. (The cleverest casting twist was using the real Sonny Seiler to play the judge.) Irma P. Hall (Soul Food), as voodoo practitioner Minerva, makes the most of her role as the manager of the spirits of the dead, even if the role is one of the most troublesome, scriptwise, in the whole movie. But an excellent cast cannot make up for a fatally flawed script, even if the movie does have a certain charm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Clint Eastwood, John Cusack, John Berendt

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