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MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL

SYNOPSIS:
John Kelso (John Cusack) is a young writer from New York who has been sent to Savannah on behalf of Town and Country magazine to cover a prestigious Christmas party given by prominent citizen, Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). Although seemingly a straightforward assignment, it turns into unexpected drama when Williams is arrested for the murder of his sometime lover Billy Hanson (Jude Law). Kelso’s article turns into a potential book about a startling murder trial in an unexpected setting – and he turns into an observer with not quite the objective eye that he hoped to be. Williams’ attorney, Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson) is the man leading the defense and Savannah provides the stage for a morality play reflected through some of the city’s more eccentric inhabitants, including the overdressed, oversexed, overgendered Chablis Deveau (The Lady Chablis) and the mystical Minerva (Irma P. Hall). In the end, though, Savannah seems to keep her secrets.

"There’s a gentle southern breeze that drifts over leafy gardens and the picturesque surrounds of Savannah, while k.d. lang’s velvet voice (a cappella) caresses Johnny Mercer’s lyrics in Skylark. This is Mercer country, after all. The houses are grand, the women coiffed and the characters as rich and colourful as a country garden. And there’s a Savannah kind of logic that hangs in the air - where voodoo reigns and dogs that have joined their makers are still taken for daily walks. Clint Eastwood has created a complex and intricate surround with splendid settings full of eccentric and bewitching characters; you can’t help but be intrigued and enticed. While Eastwood’s artistic, experienced direction succeeds in painting the hues and shades of both the setting and the characters, the main flaw is the film’s length, which would, if brutally tightened, add pace to some slacker scenes. Wonderful characterisations are the strength of John Lee Hancock’s screenplay, high intrigue at every turn. The way Lennie Niehaus’ moody score is interwoven into the film’s texture enhances its richness, and together with the musical talents of Rosemary Clooney and Joe Williams, we also get to hear the vocals of the esteemed director Eastwood, his daughter Alison as well as Kevin Spacey. The lead performances zing with charisma and substance: Spacey is smooth, well-oiled and urbane, Jack Thompson impressive; and the extraordinary, irrepressible Lady Chablis, a real scene stealer, while Jude Law uses his stunning facial features to great effect. Eastwood’s exploration of the shades of grey that exist between truth and perception is intriguing: Midnight is a thought-provoking film which gathers much momentum for anyone with a fertile, pliable imagination."
Louise Keller

"The fruit is ripe here, a cinematic plum, plucked from literature where all the best writers work, but the taste is different: instead of the slow, melting osmosis of characters and setting that we enjoy as readers, as audiences we have to adapt to the sensations of sight and sound. And even more importantly, to the limits of what the camera sees. This is always true, but never more so than with a film where the nuances and twists of perception, love, sex, mysticism and social strictures are the currency. Eastwood’s attempt at framing this work is far more accomplished than Crissa-Jean (below) gives him credit for. Accepting that the novelty acts of Chablis and Minerva – one a trans-sexual, the other a voodoo priestess – are clamouring and unsubtle (hardly unexpected given their characters), the film does deliver a sense of place, time and characters that sits comfortably for an audience. There are also poetic touches, especially the opening and closing moments in the "garden" – the cemetery. And exposition is not always a bad thing in film, especially when the story is filled with characters all busy with their own thing. Yes, it is too long, as Louise (above) observes. And yes, there is a touch of rambling: and yes, John Cusack’s mannerims (especially his mouth business) get tiresome. But you have to admire ‘Dirty Harry’ as Crissa-Jean refers to Eastwood, for knowing a thing or two about taking you into a world where you care for the people – one way or t’other. And Jack Thompson? He’s very good indeed. Do take a stroll in this garden, you’ll be pleasantly surprised."
Andrew L. Urban

"Here is an example of the wrong director for the wrong film. Despite a few interesting touches by director Clint Eastwood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a surprisingly lacklustre affair, a film of dull predictability. The film is overlong, with Eastwood lacking the ability of cutting in the right places. The film doesn't know what it's ultimately attempting to achieve, be it a satiric view of Southern American society, a murder mystery which ain't no mystery, or a dash of voodoo. There's a dash of everything, all bottled together in a slow, uneven affair that rarely engulfs the viewer's interest. Perhaps with a stronger cast, the film may have worked better, but the acting, with one or two exceptions, is as dull as Eastwood's direction. John Cusack is way out of his depth here as the pivotal writer. For a character of apparent passion, Cusack has no idea what to do with this character, and so he wanders through it all in an aimless, passionless manner. Kevin Spacey does his usual schtick with eloquent but superficial predictability, while Alison Eastwood is a leading lady with nothing to do, but then we know why SHE'S in the movie, right? However, our own Jack Thompson manages to deliver one of his deftest performances to date as the showy Southern lawyer. Real-life transvestite Lady Chablis, playing herself, is also a major scene-stealer. In one of the few memorable moments in the film, Chablis gatecrashes a black and white debutante ball (beautifully mounted) with hilarious results. If Eastwood had kept this momentum going, he may well have conjured up a gem, but alas, it’s a wishy washy affair; indeed, a garden not worth traversing at any time of day or night."
Paul Fischer



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 1
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See Andrew L. Urban's SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (M)15+
(US)

CAST: Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, Jack Thompson, Alison Eastwood, Irma P. Hall, Paul Hipp, Jude Law, Dorothy Loudon, Anne Haney, Kim Hunter, Geoffrey Lewis, The Lady Chablis

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood

SCRIPT: John Lee Hancock (based on the book by John Berendt)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jack N. Green

EDITOR: Joel Cox

MUSIC: Lennie Niehaus

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Henry Bumstead

RUNNING TIME: 155 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: March 26, 1998







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