[Screen It]


(1997) (John Cusack, Kevin Spacey) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Mild *Mild Mild Moderate
Moderate None Mild Minor Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
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Talk About
Mild Moderate None Mild Moderate

Drama: A young writer tries to discover whether a wealthy Southern socialite is guilty of murder.
John Kelso (JOHN CUSACK) is a New York based freelance writer who's been sent to Savannah to write a story for Town and Country magazine about a well-known, extravagant Christmas party. Arriving in the Southern city that's immersed in its history as well as its traditional ways, Kelso meets the party's host, Jim Williams (KEVIN SPACEY). A wealthy art collector and dealer, his taste is surpassed only by his genteel Southern manners. Kelso attends the lavish party, thinks he has everything for his story, and prepares to head home.

Later that night, however, he learns that Williams has shot and killed his employee, Billy Hanson (JUDE LAW), a young hustler with a history of violent outbursts. Williams claims it was in self- defense, but the police indict him for murder. His lawyer, Sonny Seiler (JACK THOMPSON), accuses them of shoddy detective work and prepares his defense. Meanwhile Kelso decides to forgo the magazine article, and instead focuses on writing a book detailing the unfolding events.

To do so, he interviews several locals, including Joe Odom (PAUL HIPP), an ex-attorney, and Mandy Nichols (ALISON EASTWOOD), one of Odom's tenants whom Kelso begins to fall for. Then there's The Lady Chablis (playing herself/himself), a flamboyant female impersonator who fills in the details about Billy when not flirting with Kelso and other men. Finally there's Minerva (IRMA P. HALL), a local voodoo priestess whom Jim brings in to cast spells in his favor. As Kelso digs deeper for the truth, he discovers that Jim's act of self-defense may not quite be truthful.

If they're fans of someone in the cast, they might. Otherwise, it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film.
For language and brief violence.
  • JOHN CUSACK plays a freelance New York writer who decides to spin a short magazine article about a Christmas party into a murder mystery story. Along the way he swears a little and drinks a bit more.
  • KEVIN SPACEY plays a wealthy Southern socialite who kills his gay lover.
  • LADY CHABLIS plays herself/himself as a promiscuous transvestite performer who speaks his/her mind freely and without hesitation.
  • JACK THOMPSON plays Jim's lawyer who will do whatever it takes to defend his client as long as it doesn't interfere with his weekly college football activities.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Slow (slo) adj. Not moving or able to move quickly; proceeding at a low speed. Marked by a low speed or tempo.
    Southern (suth'ern) adj. Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of southern regions or the South.
    Clint Eastwood (klin't est-wood) noun. Famous actor /director best known for squinty eyes, and the infamous line, "Make my day."
    Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil (mid-nit in the gar'dn ov good and evel) noun. A new film directed by Clint Eastwood featuring a slow-moving story set in the South.
    Disappointment (dis' e-point' ment) noun. The feeling you'll experience after watching this movie (esp. If you had high expectations of it).

    Okay, that's enough of the dictionary exercise, but all of it's a rather accurate description of this film. Adapted from John Berendt's best selling novel and based on true-life events, this story has all of the solid fundamentals of being good. First off, there's a murder and differing opinions of what really happened. Then there's a wild assortment of colorful characters, all of whom have something to say about what's happened. They're embodied by a tremendously talented cast, and an accomplished director helms the whole project.

    "So what's the problem?" you might ask. Well, the problem is the story itself. While it's based on a real-life murder and the effects it had on a Southern city and its inhabitants, it isn't overly exciting or emotionally moving on the big screen. Nothing happens that's terribly original and the prolonged murder trial is -- to put it politely -- quite boring. And tedious. Although the film has its share of uniquely distinct characters, they alone can't carry the film. The result is a butt- numbing two and a half hours of Southern hospitality, manners and what most audiences will find as a less than sensational murder story.

    Beyond the lackluster plot, the rest of the fault lies with The Man With No Name. Actually, we know who he is, and actor/director Clint Eastwood's long career has had its share of ups and downs. For every award-winning "Unforgiven" and "Bird," there have been the atrocities such as "The Rookie" and "Pink Cadillac." Granted, he didn't direct that last film, but just starring in it was certainly bad enough.

    Of course this, his twentieth directorial project, isn't anywhere as bad as those, but it's also nowhere near his best. Successfully infusing the half realistic, half stereotype of the eccentrically slow South, Eastwood does create a very unique world. Shot on location in Savannah where the real story took place, the film perfectly looks, and feels, the part. Unfortunately, that slow Southern stereotype is the film's undoing. Matched with the mediocre plot, the results are devastatingly slow.

    What saves the film from being awful are the performers and the roles they inhabit. Whether the real-life characters were quite so colorful is questionable (artistic license being what it is), but they're certainly enjoyable to behold. There's the porter who's paid to walk an imaginary, but once alive dog for fifteen dollars a week. One of the jurors walks around with horseflies tied to his suit and he carries a vial of "poison" that he occasionally threatens to unleash in the city's drinking water.

    We also get to meet The Lady Chablis, a male transvestite/female impersonating performer who steals every scene he/she is in. Played by the real-life person from the original incidents, this character symbolizes that this laid back city is filled with more interesting personas than it would like the world to believe. Even Williams attorney, is a bit off-kilter as he owns the bulldog mascot for the University of Georgia and leaves right before the trial to partake in more collegiate activities.

    Then there are the two main characters successfully played by John Cusack and Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey. Cusack plays a likeable, if not stereotypical outsider who finds himself in a twilight-zone type world that as he describes it, makes New York seem boring. His character is given some nice touches, however, such as playing a tape of N.Y. street noises that allows him to fall asleep. We've always liked Cusack and the somewhat offbeat characters he plays, and he does a fine job here.

    Spacey inhabits the much more interesting character, and plays this man whose socialite manner hides what even he knows is a darker side of himself. Gracious but beguiling, we're led early on to believe that he's capable of being quite different from his outward persona. When Kelso asks what a painting, that's superimposed on top of another, is obscuring, Jim replies, "I rather enjoy not knowing." Later, and purposefully taken out of context, Jim comments (about correctly estimating Kelso's suit size), "I have an eye for framing things." From being a hospitable host to loudly playing his own pipe organ to terrorize the hated neighbor dog, this character is anything but run of the mill.

    Despite all of the film's fun characterizations, however, the expectations of what will follow are never met. The characters are interesting, as is the plot initially, but it soon boils down into a whole lot of something about nothing. The revelations of what may have really occurred are less than sensational as is the case with the "outing" of the characters' real behavior. Whether we're supposed to be surprised -- as the characters are -- by the fact that the Lady Chablis is really a man (ala "The Crying Game") it's preposterous since there's no doubt that this person is obviously a man (are the people in the story blind?). And Jim's explanation/revelation of what really happened on the night of the murder will bore most audience members.

    There are also some other elements that add flavor, but not much else to the story. Jim has a romantic thing for Mandy (played by Clint's real daughter), but most of it seems superficial and feels like there was probably much more to it in the novel (Eastwood does admit to shooting a "love scene" between the two and then cutting it from this film). Then there's the voodoo priestess Mirvana who's brought in by Jim to put a supernatural spin on the events. While it does provide for stereotypical Southern voodoo material, the scenes with her seem more goofy then truly scary or disturbing -- almost as if the film were trying to make fun of this traditional bayou lore. What it does provide is the film's unique title -- the cemetery is the "garden" and midnight, of course, is the witching hour after which Mirvana can do her evil voodoo tricks.

    Nonetheless, and despite all of the interesting sounding characters, settings and the murder story, the film is boring. It's way too long (they could easily have cut out a good half hour) and way too predictable. Luckily the wide variety of characterizations keeps one from dozing off during the film, but be forewarned that you're in for the long haul if you decide to see it. Much like molasses sluggishly oozing from a tipped over jar on the front porch of a Savannah home, the stuff coming out might look good and be quite tasty, but it's terribly boring to watch. We give "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" a 5 out of 10.

    There are several elements in this film that parents and others may find objectionable. Profanity is extreme with more than 10 "f" words. Several characters turn out to have had a gay relationship, and a male transvestite has a prominent role in the second half of the film. There is a murder (with a little bit of blood), along with some other tense scenes. Set in the deep South, there is a voodoo priestess and several scenes focus on her and her spells. There is some drinking and smoking, and a few sexual lines of dialogue, but no activity. While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, you should examine the content before you or someone in your home does so, especially if you're concerned about its content.

  • Billy has a beer next to his car that he's detailing.
  • People drink in the street outside a party, as well as inside the house, including Kelso and Joe.
  • People drink at another party and Kelso drinks wine.
  • Billy drinks liquor straight from the bottle and appears to be drunk.
  • Kelso and Jim have after dinner drinks.
  • Minerva occasionally uses liquor in her voodoo practice and we see her take a few drinks during those moments.
  • Kelso drinks a beer.
  • People drink in a bar, and others drink at a sorority dance.
  • Kelso and Lady Chablis have drinks at a sorority dance.
  • We learn that Billy had a history of drug use (including pot and cocaine), but we don't see any of it.
  • Kelso and Sonny have drinks (beer and a shot of liquor) at a bar. Kelso pours his beer into a plastic cup and leaves with it, later appearing to be somewhat intoxicated.
  • We see Billy on the floor with a bloody wound to his side. We later see a flashback of the killing and see two bloody bullet holes.
  • In another scene we see Billy raising his head from the floor and blood runs from his mouth in a red stream.
  • It turns out that Jim acted in more than self-defense when shooting Billy. While he plans to tell the truth, he decides not to after a new bit of evidence is found that might get him off the hook.
  • Some may see Minerva and her voodoo practice as having both. Her motto is "To understand the living, you gotta commune with the dead."
  • Some viewers, depending on their beliefs, may see Lady Chablis (a male transvestite) and/or Jim and Billy (gay lovers) as having both.
  • Lady Chablis, dressed in a vibrant blue dress, crashes a black tie event and comes on to the men, generally making a nuisance of herself.
  • Billy threatens Jim with a broken liquor bottle.
  • If younger preteens are allowed to see this film, the scenes involving Minerva and her voodoo behavior in a cemetery might be scary to them.
  • We see a flashback leading up to the shooting. During so, Billy and Jim's argument leads them to the point where they both draw their guns.
  • We see another flashback of sorts where Jim has what appears to be a heart attack. As he lies on the floor, he sees the dead Billy raise up his head from the floor.
  • Small handgun: Jokingly waved around (while loaded) by a woman during the party.
  • Luger and dagger: Kept in a display case by Jim.
  • Handguns: Used by Billy to threaten Jim who retaliates by shooting and killing Billy.
  • Phrases: "Balls" (testicles), "Bitch" (toward women, mainly said by Lady Chablis), "Pissed off," "Two tears in a bucket -- motherf***it," "Horny," and "Fairy."
  • A woman jokingly waves a small loaded handgun around at a party.
  • Billy breaks a liquor bottle and threatens Jim with the jagged neck.
  • Some kids may get interested or be more interested in voodoo from this film.
  • Billy snuffs out his cigarette on Jim's desk.
  • None.
  • There is a mild amount of such music in a few scenes during the movie.
  • Joe plays a boogie-woogie tune on the piano that includes the words "making love" and "making that dumpster love."
  • At least 12 "f" words (2 used with "mother"), 10 "s" words, 1 slang terms for male genitals (the "c" word), 12 hells, 9 damns, 7 asses (1 used with "hole"), 1 S.O.B., and 6 uses of "G-damn," 3 uses of "Jesus," 2 uses of "Oh my God," and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ," "Sweet Jesus," "Good Lord" and "God" as exclamations.
  • Kelso meets a woman -- Lady Chablis -- who turns out to be a male transvestite.
  • During one of her shows, Lady Chablis talks about a couple that's "necking" and says that the husband must have "some good stuff" or that the wife "is horny."
  • Lady Chablis tells Kelso that she's "hiding her candy" (her male genitals) and asks, "Do you want me to unwrap it for you?" He declines.
  • We learn that Jim and Billy were lovers, and that Billy was a male prostitute.
  • Mandy's outfit reveals some cleavage in one scene.
  • After a man tells Lady Chablis that he's escorting his sister at a sorority dance, Lady Chablis replies, "Please don't tell me you're doing it with your sister." Later, after she gets this man to admit that he was arrested in the past for disturbing the peace, she says, "I've got a piece you can disturb."
  • Lady Chablis fakes appendicitis at an emergency room and as the doctor presses on her abdomen, she keeps telling him that he has to go lower. Once he hits "the spot," Lady Chablis lets out a satisfied moan.
  • Jim smokes cigars in several scenes while we also see Joe smoke cigarettes in several more.
  • Billy smokes a few times and we see Lady Chablis smoke as well.
  • Some miscellaneous people smoke in the backgrounds of other shots.
  • None.
  • The accuracy of this film in portraying the real-life events upon which it's based.
  • The films' accuracy in portraying the South.
  • Transvestites/female impersonators.
  • Billy breaks a liquor bottle and threatens Jim with the jagged neck.
  • Though not initially seen, Jim shoots and kills Billy.
  • While Jim is in prison, we hear the sounds of several inmates beating up another inmate.
  • In a flashback we see Billy tip over one of Jim's grandfather clocks.
  • In that same flashback, we see Billy threaten Jim with a gun. In turn, Jim grabs a gun and shoots Billy, and then shoots him again as he lies on the floor.

  • Reviewed November 18, 1997

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