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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.33%
Worth A Look54.17%
Average: 25%
Pretty Bad: 10.42%
Total Crap: 2.08%

3 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
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by Ryan Arthur

"Slow. But interesting."
4 stars

Dear God, look at Spacey's eyes!

The best way to describe the book that this film is based on is as a love letter to the city and people of Savannah, Georgia. Author John Berendt was a yankee taken in by the beauty and color of the area and its inhabitants, and wrote one of the best character studies in recent memory. The movie version of the book was inevitable. The trick would be transferring the heart and soul of the book to the screen.

This falls just short.

There are so many of the miniscule details that director Clint Eastwood has tried to cram into the movie that the film veers away from what should be the focus: the murder trial of gay antiques dealer Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). There's the guy walking the imaginary dog; the drunnk neigbor who's always packing a revolver; Williams' lawyer and the University of Georgia mascot, a bulldog wearing sweaters; and a man with horseflies tied by strings to his body who may or may not have a small bottle of poison potent enough to kill everyone in Savannah. The book was a sprawling, detailed look at the city and eventually the crime that shocked it, with many of the author's detours (including a trip to the Black Debutante's Ball that has no bearing on the story) along the way. That's fine for a 400 page book that can be finished when the reader wants to finish. But in a film that clocks in at over 2 and a half hours, it's information overload. The core of the book - Spacey's character is accused of killing his lover (Jude Law) - is enough to deal with, particularly if the audience hasn't read the book. It ends ambiguously, allowing the audience to make up their own minds about Williams' guilt or innocence.

Ironically, it's the very details that hurt the film that are also its saving grace. It's the oddball characters that John Cusack (as the fictional embodiment of the author) meets and comes to know that are outstanding. From Eastwood's daughter Allison as Cusack's would-be love interest, to the talented Irma P. Hall (A Family Thing, Soul Food) as a voodoo priestess, to the drag queen Lady Chablis (played, not surprisingly, by the drag queen Lady Chablis), the film's loaded with a quirky group that draws us in. Spacey's in fine form as the central character Williams, with beady, coal black eyes that look like they're all pupil and a slow southern drawl. He continues to make excellent choices in his roles. Cusack's limited to a string of slack-jawed "I-can't-believe-you-people" reaction shots to Savannah locals, like he's in some Spielberg movie reacting to some dinosaur/shark/potbellied alien, but his scenes with the Lady Chablis (all improvised, due to Chablis' refusal to memorize dialogue) are a hoot.

Eastwood's direction is equivalent to Berendt's prose. That's another part of the problem. It's all slow and steady, very deliberate. Like in the south itself, nothing moves faster than a medium pace. It suits the story, but it hurts the film. But it looks fantastic, like a moving postcard of the city.

Rambling, but not bad. A decent rental. Read the book ahead of time.

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originally posted: 09/23/98 23:32:20
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User Comments

3/25/18 The Big D. I bet Billy never had a gun, but it was still self-defense--Billy was in a drunken rage. 4 stars
6/19/09 justright Cusack's scenes with Lady Chablis are fantastic........ 5 stars
9/28/07 mr.mike only semi-sucessful Clint effort 3 stars
2/13/07 johnnyfog BESt Cusak role, although Spacey's southern accent grates! 4 stars
5/23/06 tatum A lovely mess; Lady Chablis sucks, though 4 stars
5/11/06 Agent Sands Good, cozy movie. 4 stars
2/05/06 john bale Rambling murder mystery set in beautiful downtown Savannah with a load of weird characters 4 stars
12/10/05 havthat I dug this. Jude Law was way hot. 4 stars
2/05/05 Lucas The French were right. Very good movie. 4 stars
11/07/03 Capt' Fox All true stories should be this wacked out. To enjoy it you must be able to think. 5 stars
9/21/03 Darryl Interesting character study, and courtroom drama. And "Lady C" steals the show! 4 stars
5/16/03 mr. Pink Boring and a mess! 1 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby Nothing special or above-average, yet it entertains nonetheless. 3 stars
2/09/03 Flick Chick apparently i didn't get a hit off the crack pipe y'all were passin' -this movie stank! 2 stars
12/07/02 Kyle Cusack sucks all ass. Other than that, this is a really good movie. 4 stars
3/13/02 Marcia Lartz A movie that needs spoilers, so you won't expect an ending that resolves anything. 2 stars
3/10/02 R.W. Welch Rather unconvincingly acted and pokily paced, doesn't really hold you. 2 stars
11/29/01 KMG Pretty good flick....needed MORE atmosphere...more haunting moss, voodoo shit 4 stars
3/28/01 Jesse L The second time I saw it, it really grew on me 4 stars
2/06/01 Classicdog Film is a long, drawn out mess, book is much better. 3 stars
5/19/00 tank Lady Chablis is as annoying as hell but it's well directed and acted.ecte. 3 stars
2/25/00 Bozo Worth a look for Jude Law & Alison Eastwood; Cusack was OK & Spacey was in another movie 3 stars
2/06/00 Kyle Broflovski Lady Chablis...tee hee hee. READ THE BOOK!!!! 4 stars
10/07/99 sophia962 Cool cast, not up to the book but a damn good try. 4 stars
9/25/99 alyssa The scene on the carpet still leaves me shaken... 5 stars
7/26/99 melbell great movie, the book was better..... 4 stars
3/28/99 TJwills The savannah townsfolk are enthralling. Of course Cusack tears the shit up!!!! 5 stars
9/21/98 Johny Tried to handle way too much and came out a mess for the most part 2 stars
8/25/98 Mister Whoopee Rambling, long, mostly disappointing. Spacey below par. 3 stars
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  21-Nov-1997 (R)



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