"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" DVD, Blu-ray Review

6/03/2010 Posted by Admin

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"

DVD, Blu-ray Review

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Written by John Lee Hancock, 155 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

John Berendt wrote his book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" as a "non-fiction novel," much in the same vein as Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." Like that novel, it explores crime and murder in a small town, and also like that novel, it's told from the perspective of the writer himself, who, like Capote, befriends the man accused of murder.

Clint Eastwood clearly put a great deal of effort into his adaptation of Berendt's novel, filming in the novel's setting of Savannah, Georgia and attempting to recreate the colorful characters and situations. Unfortunately, the film simply isn't able to stand up to the real events.

New York writer John Kelso (John Cusack) is flown to Savannah to cover a lavish annual Christmas party held by wealthy antique dealer Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). Williams welcomes Kelso with open arms, and eventually tells him he requested Kelso personally because of his appreciation for the New Yorker's only published novel. The night following the party, Kelso is awoken by a commotion coming from Williams' house. It appears that there has been a quarrel that ended in the death of mechanic and male prostitute Billy Hanson--at Williams' hand.

Williams claims he shot the man in self-defense, and because of the connection he's made with Williams, Kelso decides to stay behind in Savannah to cover his friend's subsequent trial. Through the trial, we explore the town and its various inhabitants through Kelso, and refreshingly, these people are shown more with fascination and respect than the typical "fish out of water" Southern stories that make all Southerners look like nutjobs (not that there aren't a couple that could fairly be labelled as such in this film).

The greatest thing about the film is definitely the performances. It seems that the perfect actors were chosen to suit their respective counterparts, especially Spacey, who effortlessly pulls off the devilish charm and southern drawl of Williams. Cusack's performance, while pretty solid, isn't far from his typical awkward and fast-talking persona, but it definitely works here, and he and Spacey work very well together. Various character actors make up most of the rest of the cast, with Lady Chablis being the standout as a transvestite performer Kelso befriends. Jude Law also makes one of his earlier performances as Billy Hanson.

Despite the strong performances, though, it never seems that we get a real feel for these characters. Even though they're all based on real people in very intriguing circumstances, they never feel like much more than performances. Any motivations or emotions become secondary to the overall plot, which itself isn't that interesting without its characters. And the attempts to bring more out of Kelso's character, especially the tacked-on romance angle, just slow down the film's already bloated running time.

Eastwood also doesn't make Savannah itself particularly interesting. It's full of great characters and stories, but it never really seems like much more than any other Southern town, and we're expected to believe it's eccentric just because we're told it is. And with the focus eventually turning almost exclusively to Williams and his trial, the film may as well just be a more serious "My Cousin Vinny."

But, in typical Eastwood fashion, he still manages to make the film work overall. The man can spin a good yarn, and this is no exception. Though the conclusion is quite excessive and awkward than what precedes it, the film is solid entertainment and if you can get past Eastwood's thematic failures, there's a lot to like. Just not a lot to love.

Grade: C+

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