Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Dir: Clint Eastwood, 1997. Starring: Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, Jude Law, Lady Chablis, Irma P. Hall. Mystery.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

First off, I am not a fan of Clint Eastwood. Hate to say it but this, Mystic River, and Play Misty for Me are the only films of his that I have taken a liking to, and that is mainly because his "Eastwood touch" is nowhere to be found. This is also one of the few films of his that he doesn’t star in and is actually resolved quite well. Now don’t get your undies in a bunch, because I’m not saying he’s a bad actor or director. I just find there to be a lot of testosterone and holes in his work, both which have no relevance to my tastes.

The story takes place in Savannah, Georgia where John Kelso (John Cusack)—a reporter from New York—is visiting for an assignment. The socialite and bourgeois art collector, Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), is throwing his famous Christmas party and the young reporter is sent in to interview the mysterious man and write an article on the events. He is introduced to Williams and warms up to his Southern hospitality immediately, while being thrown off by William’s troubled and violent lover, Billy (Jude Law), who is supposed to be out of sight for the party. John could care less that Williams is a closeted homosexual, but the aggravation and supposed fear that Billy sparks is clear from the start and is the catalyst for the rest of the film. The party happens and is covered by John and then he returns to his lodgings, passing neighbors who intend to party till dawn. Hours later, the familiar sound of sirens rouses him from sleep and he ventures back outside where the same locals are buzzing (chilled drinks still in their hand) about the fact that Williams has shot his lover.

Like any good reporter, John decides to stay on a while longer, phoning his employer to let him know that not only is there now a murder case to cover, but the city is overflowing with eccentrics who need to be documented. These include a man who walks around with a vile and threatens to poison the city’s water supply; another who walks a phantom dog that used to be the Georgia Bulldog mascot; and The Lady Chablis (Lady Chablis)—a drag queen who knows everyone’s dirt and has the nerve to gossip about it 24/7.

The case takes off and Kelso begins to spend his free time about the town with two locals who cannot be shaken. First, there is Chablis, who has developed a huge crush on Kelso—following him around and turning every conversation into a suggestive pun. Then there is the spiritualist (Irma P. Hall) who believes that Billy’s ghost may be out for revenge and that Williams and others might be in danger. She acts sort of like a motherly voodoo elder and will show up at random to warn others of her fears before the case is closed. Williams claims that Billy pulled a gun on him and was shot out of self-defense, and the prosecutor claims that the murder was a passionate killing done in cold blood. But the sketchy evidence and William’s hot shot lawyer have made the case more complex to solve and literally leaves you guessing until the very end of the movie, where nothing is what it seems and the truth is about relevant as fiction. The relationship and trust that blooms between Williams and Kelso is offbeat and interesting, and the suggestive romance that unfolds between Kelso and Chablis was unexpected and stylish.

What I like most about this film is its attention to detail. Most of the exterior scenes were shot in Savannah and Eastwood made sure that everyone used strong Southern accents that seemed authentic, except for Jude Law, whose natural accent can always be detected. There are beautiful shots of Southern landscapes and some compelling camera work, especially toward the end of the movie. I liked the genuine portrayals of all the people and their culture and, for once, they don’t seem to come off with or feed a bias. For example, there’s an awesome scene where a group of black debutantes have their social crashed by Chablis, exposing the elegance and vanity of the rich black locals, and then juxtaposing it with the rich white ones. I think it’s the only movie I’ve seen that doesn’t portray every black person in the South to be porters, cooks or servants. Obviously there are some characters that fit this description, seeing as how a lot of things have, in fact, stayed the same in the South, but still, it was a welcome shift in direction. Even the choice to cast Chablis as herself and treat the character with respect and importance is something that makes a larger audience trust - and be interested in - all the film’s qualities. It has a charm that is magnetic and endearing and, at the same time, it has a spicy aftertaste that I simply wasn’t expecting. This is hands down one of the most interesting roles that Spacey has done and reminds me of his early work that showed a bit more promise than some of his later films. I recommend this movie to anyone who loves the South and eccentrics and likes to follow who-done-its 'til the end in order to be satisfied.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Sep 16, 2010 4:36pm
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