Sunday, September 01, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) ***

R, 155 min.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: John Lee Hancock, John Berendt (novel)
Starring: John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Jack Thompson, Irma P. Hall, Jude Law, Alison Eastwood, Paul Hipp, The Lady Chablis, Dorothy Loudon, Anne Haney, Kim Hunter, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Heard, Leon Rippy, Bob Gunton, Sonny Seiler, Patrika Darbo, Michael Rosenbaum

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is one of those movies that slowly grows on you every time you see it. When it first came out in theaters—like most people—I was disappointed with it. The book was a very hot commodity. There was a great deal of hype surrounding the film, and it underperformed in the box office and critically. It was a let down from what everyone expected it to be. There weren’t really any fingers to point either. Clint Eastwood’s direction is solid and captures the beauty of the Savannah, Georgia backdrop. The performances are top notch, especially in the leads held by Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. It seemed the film’s major problem was the laid back nature of it all, which was in perfect character for its setting in source material, so… what can you say?

Initially, I probably would’ve awarded the film two stars, but in the handful of times I’ve seen it since its theatrical run, I would most certainly raise that star rating to at least a solid three. Multiple viewings of this film help the audience to understand its best assets. The murder mystery is nothing special, and probably was responsible for the let down. However, Eastwood understood that it isn’t the murder mystery or the courtroom drama that makes this story appealing. The special nature of this story comes from the unique character of its Savannah setting and the characters who live there. This is where both the book and the film excel. Eastwood even has the presence of mind to cast some of the actual people of Savannah in the film. The Lady Chablis being the most prominent of these people who really exist and give Savannah its fascinating atmosphere.

It isn’t what happens in this film, or even how it happens, that makes it appealing. These are the typical points of interest for any film. However, it’s how these people behave and respond to the events that are interesting and entertaining here. Even Cusack’s normal guy writer is a study in fascinating reactions. It’s easiest to see in the party scene where one of the guests nonchalantly brandishes her gun and threatens to shoot a man one day just to use it. The guests are afraid of the gun going off accidentally, but it’s a joke to all of them except for the Cusack character. He sees their acceptance of this odd social behavior and tries to gage his reaction to theirs, but he can’t totally hold back his New York instincts to flinch and protect himself against someone who seems so oblivious to the power she holds in her hands.

Certainly, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is not one of Eastwood’s finest films. It was really his first foray into such a large ensemble cast. He typically works on a more intimate scale than a picture of this scope allows. I’m sure it helped prepare him for the excellent ensemble pieces he produced with “Mystic River”, “Flags Of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima”. It’s a great character piece, and a great acting piece, if not a great plot or dramatic piece. There are also some pretty good laughs to be uncovered within it. It’s worth a second look if you were disappointed the first time around. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s best not to concentrate on the more typical elements of the movie so much as the stranger parts. Everybody’s hiding some sort of candy.

No comments: