Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) Directed by Clint Eastwood
I like to be contrary. Also, I like to play devil's advocate. I like a good argument, even if I'm not really believing what I'm arguing for. So for quite a few decades now I've been seriously into Clint Eastwood movies. This has pissed off various friends over the years. It's very hard for people to imagine, Mr Eastwood is nowadays very critically approved of, even a genius to some, but at one time, Clint had the critical credibility of say, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, that's right, that bad. Since winning the Best Director Oscar for Unforgiven, Eastwood as a film maker has seen his work, rightly I feel, reappraised. There are the classics (Spaghetti Westerns, Unforgiven, Mystic River etc), the worthy (Bird, Honkytonk Man, Letters From Iwo Jima etc) and the terrible (Firefox, Pink Cadillac, Every Which Way But Loose etc). You could place Midnight In The Garden Of Good & Evil in the same category as the terrible. This film has a stinker reputation. What was I mentioning about contrary?
It's my second time round with Midnight....and this time I enjoyed the very casual direction, the laid back atmosphere, and unfussy portrait of Savannah's eccentrics. The wit of the script seemed well pitched and not overdone. John Cusack was not so smarmy and annoying as he often is, this time approaching some of the cool he thinks he oozes. Kevin Spacey still sports a ridiculous fake mustache and is the real let down here. He just seems wooden. However, add a decent Jude Law cameo (pretending to be Jimmy Dean), a strong supporting role from Clint's daughter Alison and the performances are uniformly good. But I forgot to mention the real showstopper : Lady Chablis. The drag queen Lady Chablis plays herself, a comedienne at one of Savannah's club's. Chablis pretty much has all the best lines and steals the picture, it's worth watching Midnight...for Chablis alone.
This true tale of one of Savannah's leading socialites James Williamson, on trial for murdering his gay lover, again, as so often with his cinema, defies Eastwood's usual conservative profile. Yes, the trial section of the film really is rather ponderous, but Eastwood manages to focus on other characters and incidents, which perhaps takes away some of the trial's tension, but does make the film more interesting. So, in the end, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil was not as awful as I expected or even remember. It works, in a lazy-bed-ridden-with-illness kind of way. No masterpiece, and definitely faulty, this is still unusual and out of left-field for most Hollywood fare. I can see its reputation growing over the years.
Kevin Spacey is always an intelligent crook in the 90s movies. John Cusack is usually boring. Jude Law begins his Hollywood career playing the beautiful reckless type. Midnight In The Garden Of Good and Evil is a compilation of clichés, but it is put together from so many pieces that as a whole it's pretty good entertainment.
There is an old-fashioned dryness in the storytelling. The setting in Savannah is overly romantic, especially as it concentrates mostly on rich people. Lady Chablis steals the show any time she is on screen, although you could ask why is she given so much time when she doesn't really advance the plot? But at least Lady Chablis adds a bit of humor and lightness between the dragging court scenes.
To add to the collection of clichés, there is a witch woman called Minerva walking around Savannah night and day. She provides a layer of magic, the good and evil. I like her. Alison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood's daughter plays the love interest. I don't know who to blame, the dad behind the camera or herself, but she is very uninteresting. Had I not been told, I would have never guessed that this was a Clint Eastwood film.