Thursday, April 12, 2012

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
An intriguing title, an Academy Award winning director and a good cast are not always enough for a great movie and this is the case with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The title possesses enough mystical feeling. Director Clint Eastwood is a legendary figure in the world of cinema. Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Jude Law are enough for labelling every film's cast as at least decent. Yet, this is not among the best directorial efforts of Eastwood, neither it is amongst the best movies in Spacey's, Cusack's or Law's careers. All of them have been involved in better projects but it won't be fair if we completely dismiss this film cause it has its own merits despite not being a classic motion picture.

The movie is based on the best-selling book by the same name by John Berendt, which is based on real-life events that have taken place in the 1980s. John Kelso (John Cusack) is a reporter from New York City who has a small assignment in Savannah, Georgia. John's task is to write a short article about the famous Christmas parties held by Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). Williams is a famous Savannah's millionaire, antiques dealer and art collector who has a homosexual relationship with young and sexy punk Billy Hanson (Jude Law). Soon, Billy is shot by Jim and Kelso decides to stay and write a book about his new friend in the face of Jim Williams.

Along the inevitable murder trial we meet a bunch of interesting characters. The Lady Chablis is a transsexual local drag queen, which brings a scent of humor in the movie. Witch Minerva is the primary responsible for the mystic filling of the film. We see Geoffrey Lewis in the role of a man who caries flies attached to himself everywhere and threatens to poison Savannah's water. And in the park, we come across a man who seems to walk around just a dog's leash (without the dog).

The main issue of the movie is that it leaves a lot of the events not well explained. We do not understand why John Kelso has been chosen to write about Jim's party. The exact motives of Billy's murder are spared. And the ending is also hugely open to interpretations. It could be considered all of this vagueness adds to the mysticism of the film but at the same time it prevents us from full enjoyment of the narrative. Williams' trial is also not very convincing as both of the sides have not backed up their pleadings well. Finally, there are a few subplots that are brought to a quick resolution at the end and their precipitated denouement does not fit in the movie quite naturally.

Now for the good parts... The major virtue of the film is the panoramic depiction of Savannah's lovely architecture along with its eccentricity and obscurity. There are beautiful buildings and references to the city's history and famous people. There are a lot of odd and colorful characters. The cinematography is pleasant for watching. And one can almost sense the atmosphere of the town.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is not near the quality of Unforgiven or some of Clint Eastwood's 21st century films. We usually expect more when his name is involved in a movie but this film although not among Eastwood's best is definitely worth seeing even if only because of the beautiful presentation of Savannah. The story is decent. And if you do not set your expectations too high it's possible to like the movie in its entirety.


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