More enjoyable than I would've predicted.
I was expecting something more mysterious and thrilling, but 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' manages to entertain nicely - despite a long run time, which I thought was going to hamper it but it didn't.
The cast are excellent. I really enjoyed John Cusack's performance and Kevin Spacey plays these sorta roles well. The Lady Chablis is another strong performer, while there are roles for a younger Jude Law, Clint Eastwood - the director - regular Geoffrey Lewis and, though very tiny, an on the brink of **** James Gandolfini.
Well worth a watch!
That was a very enjoyable court drama movie. Clint Eastwood did very well there. I watched it half way through reading the book. It shows how life mixes facts and spiritual beliefs. The movie is not action packed obviously so for people with pattention issues, this is not for you: you have to listen, you have to concentrate to read between the lines, you have to follow the path. It requires a worthy effort to keep track of the event which is required for movies like "Once upon a time in America", "Once upon a time in the West", "The good, the bad and the ugly" and not necessary for most of the most recent movies.
The atmosphere is wonderful. John Cusack's usual well-nuanced style fit right in, ironically, as the outsider looking in. The problem is the length of the film; even though there were so many true-life characters (some playing themselves), you have to cut something. And, a little Chablis goes a long way. Eastwood's daughter could have been much worse.
Southern Gothic to its very core, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil may be a flawed and bloated film, but one thing director Clint Eastwood does tremendously is to create the atmosphere. Stuffy, proper, and decidedly odd and ritualistic, Eastwood captures the essence of the South throughout the film. From large and old plantation homes, Confederate flags in the courtroom, a Confederate flag on Jude Law's arm, a love of firearms, and an eclectic group of people that could rival Hollywood for the number of weirdos, the south is odd and Eastwood knows it. Odd is not bad. It is just odd and this film captures that essence throughout the film with the constant belief that something is just off with everything as a whole. This really lends itself to a mystery film, even if Eastwood indulges far too often in the oddities of this town. Other signs of bloating - a romance angle that was not in the book - do hold this film back, but with terrific acting, the aforementioned atmosphere, and a compelling story, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a pretty good crime mystery.
Divisive upon release, there was one element that nobody disagreed on: Kevin Spacey and John Cusack are brilliant. As a reporter, John Kelso, sent to cover the party of a Southern big shot for Town & Country Magazine, John Cusack is terrific. Honestly, is there a better audience surrogate than Cusack? Personable and charismatic, but never unattainable, he is perfect for this role and allows the audience to really feel the Southern regality and weirdness. Navigating the cultural minefield of the conservative but eccentric Savannah, Georgia, Cusack's reporter is smart and well crafted. He embraces the town and it embraces him back, but he never loses sight of why he is there: Jim Williams. Befriending the rich Williams and sticking around after he is charged with murdering Billy Hanson (Jude Law), Kelso works alongside Williams' legal team to help his defense, but also writes a book on his experiences in the process.
As the charged Williams, Spacey really shows adds this as another string to his bow in the late 1990s. In Se7en, The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, and American Beauty, Spacey forever cemented his status as a legend. Terrifying, menacing, yet eminently human, he is a great actor who finally gets his due once more on House of Cards. Yet, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil often feels like a precursor to that television series. Playing a rich Southern bachelor who certainly is **** than he can let on in the Bible belt, Williams is a tricky figure. Manipulative, cordial, warm, but with a soul as black as coal, Williams is a dark figure masquerading as a figure of good. He is evil, but tries to operate in the garden of good. This is largely highlighted in a scene with the voodoo lady of Savannah. Doing some weird voodoo ritual to help him beat the charge, Williams speaks positively of Billy right before midnight (the time for good), but then vows to never ask Billy for forgiveness after midnight (the time for bad). Though he claims it was self-defense, the film certainly seems to hint it was anything but and there were likely other motivations for killing Billy than self-defense. Regardless, Spacey plays the role tremendously.
Plot-wise, the film really engages the audience. Refusing to divulge the cards up its sleeves, Eastwood's film grabs you and makes you follow all of the moving pieces. It is one that does not offer resolutions because it is based on a real story. Real life is messy and incomplete, which is the case with this film. While the court case is decided, it does not decide the truth and, in fact, the truth remains unclear. Personally, I would argue that Jim killed Billy, his **** lover, in cold blood. Billy likely either wanted to leave him or go public with their arrangement and, well, the rich Jim could not have that. Yet, that said, coming to a conclusion all your own is part of the joy of this film and something that Eastwood captured well.
That said, at two-and-a-half hours, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is long. There are one too many adventures with the Lady Chablis and the unnecessary addition of a romantic interest for John Kelso distract Eastwood and his film from reaching its conclusion. At its core, it is a story about a murder in a Southern Gothic and old school city with old school values. Though eccentric, them acquitting a **** man is unheard of, which makes the case itself very compelling. Will they convict a rich man because he is **** or acquit a **** man because he is rich? Yet, Eastwood indulges in the boisterous and infectious energy of the Lady Chablis too often. She is fun and a great character, but does not tie into the murder at all. She testifies, but her testimony adds nothing. She adds entertainment alone and, as such, diverts from the purpose of the film. Similarly, Mandy (Alison Eastwood) adds nothing and her addition feels like nepotism.
Even with its oppressive and inordinate length, this film is perhaps one of the strangest that I have seen from Clint Eastwood. And the most surprising thing about it, is seeing how it got out of his hands, even considering the appetite of his attempt.