MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL
This story starts when John Kelso (John Cusack), a New York writer, is
commissioned to do a short piece for the society page about a party held
at Jim's sprawling estate. The tycoon warmly welcomes John and introduces
him to several important people. The inebriated conversations among wealthy
women about their husbands having committed suicide strikes John as strange,
but when they start brandishing loaded weapons and joking about their aspirations
to "kill a man," he is downright intrigued.
When the party's over, the police are called: sure enough, there is a
man dead on the Persian rug, and Jim appears to be the killer. While partygoers
continue to pass out hors d'oeuvres on the street, the police question the
host. John sees that he has a much bigger story on his hands than the society
piece. "These people are all heavily armed and drunk," he phones
to a friend back home. "New York is boring; I'm staying here for a
while." In fact, he's inspired to write a book about the charming but
dark atmosphere of deep south soceity.
The ensuing murder trial reveals aspects of Jim's lifestyle and his relationship
with the victim (Billy Hanson, played by Jude Law) that he thinks are much
more damaging than the fact that he killed the man. And with his new friend
scribbling notes every few minutes, he is even more on edge. But the two
strike up a deal with the aid of Jim's lawyer, Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson),
and John is allowed to be privy to all information in the case in return
for letting them see what he's writing.
The likelihood of an attorney allowing a novelist to eavesdrop on confidential
conversations regarding a murder trial is highly questionable, especially
in a close-knit southern town when the writer is a New York yankee. And
since John's participation has a major bearing on the case, some might say
the whole story falls apart because of that. But if this unlikelihood is
allowed, the rest of the story seems plausible and very well executed by
the cast and by director Clint Eastwood, usually known for high-intensity
action pictures. Spacey is suave and subtle, eminently charming to all.
And Cusack is visibly flabbergasted by all the things he sees and experiences
in this multi-layered society.
A standout performance is given by The Lady Chablis, a drag queen apparently
portraying herself. She has an irresistable charm and an arresting manner
about her. She is called in as a star witness by John, because she knows
intimate details about Billy and his relationship with Jim. Chablis really
steals the show, and adds much needed humor, although not at her expense
or that of anyone like her. Her humor is on her own terms, and her sex appeal
is undeniable, a counterbalance to the homespun sensuality of Mandy (Alison
Eastwood), the woman John meets and is attracted to.
Another interesting portrayal is that of Minerva (Irma P. Hall), a mysterious
practicioner of the dark arts enlisted by Jim to help him deal with the
spirit of the man dead at his hand. The cryptic philosophy/maniacal laughter
bit is trite, but generally she is real and believable, a well-defined character
among many in the multi-faceted cast.
There are moments when the story seems to lose momentum, but it never really drags. Eastwood has offered a good blend of humor and pathos, the mysterious underworld and the mundane machinations of society. ****
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