MOVIE REVIEW | Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)


“I’ve only been here three days and it’s just a shooting, but give it time, okay. This place is fantastic. It’s like Gone With the Wind on Mescalin.”

Based on the movies of his I’ve seen as a director, Clint Eastwood doesn’t make grand, luscious movies.  Sure, he can make big movies, like the companion pieces of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.  But even at their biggest, they’re still gritty and dirty and free of pomp.  He’s a director with a reputation of coming in before schedule and under budget.  Which is why it’s so inexplicable that he made a movie built so entirely on excess, as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

John Cusack is John Kelso, a journalist sent to Savanah, Georgia to write a story for the society papers about a famous, annual party, thrown by local antiques dealer, the flamboyant Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey).  Given a crash course in the ways of the South, Kelso meets a parade of colourful characters.  Including Williams’ blustery lawyer, Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson), drag queen and lounge singer Lady Chablis (Chablis Deveau), and shit kicking rent boy, Billy Hanson (Jude Law).

After a series of increasingly quirky and funny interactions with locals and their peculiar ways of life, Kelso starts to see Savanah as some sort of Southern charm theme park.  But things turn to the dark side when Williams shoots and kills Hanson, supposedly in self defense.  This is where Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil turns into a court room procedural.

At over two and half hours, I had trepidations about committing to this movie.  It’s mammoth length was all I knew about it.  But it turned out to be one of the few movies to justify such an extended running time.  It’s almost a mini series with three very distinct episodes.  There’s the goofily funny part one, introducing us to this strange town and its strange inhabitants.   There’s the dark part two, when the surface is lifted to reveal a seedy underbelly where murder doesn’t seem to surprise anyone.  Then there’s the nitty gritty of part three, getting to the bottom of everything, connecting loose ends and delivering the kind of efficient Eastwood story telling he’s famous for.

Part one might be the most enjoyable, and it is legitimately hilarious.  Post middle aged women in expensive ball gowns, brandishing pistols, laughing about their late husbands “blowing their brains out” is not what I expected from an Eastwood joint.  But the jump in tone after this light introduction actually works to make the following darkness all the better.  It’s a little jarring, but never seems disconnected.

Based on a true story, there’s one glaring aspect that I just don’t get.  For some reason, the notion of voodoo is introduced, and kind of taken seriously.  But at the same time, after being setup as a major part of the story, it’s almost immediately abandoned.  It could have so easily been excised all together, instead of being a weird speed bump that stuck in my ahead as pointless long after the movie itself seemed to have forgotten about it.

But there’s still one massive surprise I haven’t got to yet.  Jack Thompson’s American accent isn’t terrible.  Maybe it’s the cartoonish nature of the heightened view that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil takes of the South, or maybe I just have tin ear for this particular accent, but Jack Thompson’s over the top pontificating sounds great with his Foghorn Leghorn level drawl.  And after seeing him as the odd sounding General in Broken Arrow (you know, the one where Christian Slater and John Travolta fight over a few nukes?), seeing Thompson appear here had me really worried about spending two and half hours with this movie.  But he’s great fun.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Directed By – Clint Eastwood
Written By – John Lee Hancock

8 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

  1. I, like millions, read the book and couldn’t wait for the film. Sadly, it was a let down. The voodoo that was odd in the film fitted perfectly into the story within the book. The characters that were very real in the book seemed cartoonish in the film. But!! Give me an average Eastwood film any day of the week before I watch pretty much anything else.

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