This panoramic tale of Savannah's eccentricities focuses on a murder and the subsequent trial of Jim Williams: self made man, art collector, antiques dealer, bon vivant and semi-closeted homosexual. John Kelso a magazine reporter finds himself in Savannah amid the beautiful architecture and odd doings to write a feature on one of William's famous Christmas parties. He is intrigued by Williams from the start, but his curiosity is piqued when he meets Jim's violent, young and sexy lover, Billy. Later that night, Billy is dead, and Kelso stays on to cover the murder trial. Along the way he encounters the irrepressible Lady Chablis, a drag queen commedienne, Sonny Seiler, lawyer to Williams, whose famous dog UGA is the official mascot of the Georgia Bulldogs, an odd man who keeps flies attached to mini leashes on his lapels and threatens daily to poison the water supply, the Married Ladies Card Club, and Minerva, a spiritualist. Between being Jim's buddy, cuddling up to a torch singer, ... Written by
Teresa B. O'Donnell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Alison Eastwood underwent three auditions, multiple read-throughs and video tests before being cast as Mandy Nichols. The fact that her father Clint Eastwood was the director was merely incidental. See more »
John Kelso's drink at the women's bridge club. See more »
Quit eye balling me, Flavius. I knew you when you was a two bit hustler on Bull Street.
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Closing disclaimer: This film is based upon John Berendt's book "MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL". Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization. See more »
Like "Citizen Kane" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "Midnight At The Garden Of Good And Evil" is a movie about a writer trying to get a simple story, and finding himself with more than he bargained for. John Cusack is the writer, John Kelso, and his explorations of Savannah, Georgia offer some mystery and fun, though the result will be flat for those who already know the story from reading the best-selling book.
"Better to be on the edge of a party, don't you think?" a young woman named Mandy (Alison Eastwood) asks Kelso at one point. It's a pertinent question. Alison's father Clint and screenwriter John Lee Hancock try to accomplish much the same effect here, dancing at the perimeters of things, showing conversations where words can not be discerned. Many times we see Kelso looking in on some social function from the outside, like at a cotillion for black debutantes or bridge games at the Married Women's Club, a bit adrift but interested in the games people play.
At the same time, Kelso becomes quite close to one Savannah resident, Joe Williams, an art dealer whose homosexuality is an open secret until he comes out of the closet by shooting his boy-toy. Kevin Spacey's performance as Williams is rich and fun, his accent not note-perfect but well-tailored to his polished delivery. The way he lazily smokes his cigars as he moves through a party, dabbles in lowcountry voodoo with Jesuitical zeal, or even eats gumbo in prison is a study in an actor's sense of the wholeness of the role.
While many book fans savage this with the comment "It's not what I read in the book," I take it in stride. John Berendt didn't carry this thing down from Mt. Sinai either most notably by presenting the killing as something that happens after his arrival rather than before he played with the facts in the book. So when the film gives us a romance between Berendt's stand-in Kelso and Mandy or invents connections between the Williams story and the others in the book so the secondary characters can appear in the main story, it kind of works in an offbeat way.
What doesn't work is the pace. The film goes on for over two and a half hours, and feels longer. Eastwood obviously approached this project with enthusiasm for the book, and especially for the music of Johnny Mercer which is prominently featured. But the comedy feels labored, the depiction of Williams' trial too unshaded in its sympathy for the defendant, and many of the performances, like that of Jude Law as the dead loverboy, seem underbaked.
Two good performances are delivered by people who had real-life roles in the book. Sonny Seiler, who defended Williams, plays the judge in the trial and gets to tell himself when he's out of order. The Lady Chablis, who I never cared for much in the book, has an engaging vulnerability on screen. Even when the story screeches off track by focusing on her character, she makes the logic gaps less bothersome with her playfulness.
I even liked Alison Eastwood, who does a good accent, looks the part of Mandy, and makes the film's most egregious detour from the book seem less of a violation. Not a stunner, but her languid delivery and drooping eyelids are very sensual in the everyday manner she presents us with, a half-promise of something good reaching out to you in the dark. In that way, she recreates the spirit of the book quite wonderfully. Pity her father didn't always do the same, but this is an entertaining film more often than not.
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