Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Film Review: MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1997, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 155 minutes.
Tag-line: "Welcome to Savannah, Georgia. A City Of Hot Nights And Cold Blooded Murder."
Notable Cast or Crew: Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, Jude Law, Irma P. Hall (THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS), Jack Thompson (FLESH + BLOOD, BROKEN ARROW), Geoffrey Lewis (HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, TANGO & CASH), Paul Hipp (FACE/OFF, LETHAL WEAPON 3), Alison Eastwood (TIGHTROPE, BRONCO BILLY), The Lady Chablis as herself. Music by Lennie Niehaus.
Best one-liner: "It's like my mom always said: 'Two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it.'" Said by the Lady Chablis.

Part travelogue, part courtroom drama, and part quasi-Lynchian exploration of American underbelly eccentricities, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL is an extremely solid effort from director Clint Eastwood, and one of his rare films that has eluded majority critical acclaim. Now, regardless of what is true or false in relation to the source (the bestselling non-fiction novel by John Berendt), and what is true or false in the book vis-á-vis reality, the film is still a remarkably compelling narrative and one which (despite the presence of characters playing themselves) we should probably just view as historically-inspired fiction.

Clint's directing style has been called languid, reflective, and even 'Zen,' and all of those characteristics come into play here as Clint unpacks the narrative like it's an exquisite doily, carefully lifted and unfolded from a dusty box in the attic.

The cast is immaculate: John Cusack plays our hotshot Manhattan wordsmith and is our point of entry into this world of Savannahians who "are all heavily armed and drunk."

Kevin Spacey is a revelation as a mustachioed Southern gent- he is completely immersed in the role (one of his best) and his complete connection comes through in the slightest of gestures- how he pets his cat, how he deliciously presents an 'evil' historical dagger, how he smokes his cigar, how he eyes a Faberge egg.

In a small part, a fresh-faced Jude Law is fully committed- (but kind of is the worst redneck since Joaquin Phoenix in U TURN):

We forgive him, though. I think.

Eastwood regular Geoffrey Lewis is believably absurd as the local with a harnessed horsefly escort and a mysterious vial. And the Lady Chablis ("I got it off a wine bottle") is infinitely entertaining and perfectly natural as... herself.

Probably the less one knows about this film going in the better, but I will say that it might contain what I believe is Clint's only foray into the (alluded) supernatural since 1985's PALE RIDER. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

6. BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)
7. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951, John Farrow)
8. HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. (1983, Rod Amateau)
9. DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE (1995, David Price)
11. ...


Simon said...

Excellent movie, I think. Jude Law is just so weird in this, I don't know whether to say its good or bad.

Unknown said...

Law is OK in this one and fortunately not in it long enough to really detract from the quality. I really like this film and it is somewhat underrated. I think that the underwhelming response it got when it first came out was because expectations were so high what with it being based on a very popular best-seller. I haven't read the book but I love the slow, deliberate pacing that Eastwood imposes here. He just takes his time, like a hot summer day in the South and lets you get to know the characters. Love the guy who gives out appetizers to gawkers when the police set up the crime scene at night. Heh.

Another nice touch was Cusack's character playing a tape of New York City street noises to help himself get to sleep at night. Anyone who's lived in the Big Apple will certainly get a kick out of that moment.

Sean Gill said...

Law here is jussssst weird enough, and as J.D. says, not quuuuite in the film enough to really take away from the experience. The first moment he appeared, however, I was having flashbacks to Phoenix's faux-redneck bungling in U TURN, but thankfully things ultimately did not develop in a similar manner.

It's strange to me that the critics didn't really take to this (only 52% fresh at RT). I found it to be full of vivid detail and Southern flourish- and neither a step up nor a step down from his subsequent work, which has generally been so venerated by the establishment.