Saturday, January 24, 2009

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (Clint Eastwood, 1997) This may seem like an oddball project for Eastwood, but truth to tell, it fits him like a wolfish scowl. He's always been interested in "true-crime" stories, and John Berendt's fictional non-fiction book about the Jim Williams trials fills that bill. Eastwood loves to shoot in the South, and Savannah, Georgia provides a wonderful backdrop for the jazz afficianado, who can use the music of the tangentially related Johnny Mercer.

And most importantly, it's a story of outsiders and iconoclasts, and that's where Eastwood excels. He was obviously having the time of his life fitting in the kooks and eccentrics who flit about the story like one of Luther Driggers' lassooed flies. For Eastwood, it must have seemed like filming "Every Which Way But Loose" with a murder trial thrown in. And he clearly loves working with drag queen The Lady Chablis working her into as much as the movie as he can, no matter how illogically--he squawked about getting more money, Eastwood probably figured he'd better earn it. During an extended comedic set-piece where Chablis crashes a very posh debutante ball and shocks the locals you can almost hear Eastwood chuckling--John Cusack is encouraged to mug just a bit too much.

And the cast, though not so stellar, is filled with great character actors: Eastwood crony Geoffrey Lewis, Kim Hunter, Jack Thompson, Dorothy Loudon, Richard Herd, Bob Gunton, Michael Rosenbaum, and the irrepressible Irma P. Hall. Doesn't matter if you've heard of them or not, you'll recognize them from other things. Heading the cast alongside Cusack is a sly and reserved Kevin Spacey, with molasses running through his veins. The only sour note is the one struck by Jude Law as the murder victim. You only wish there were more bullets.

It was the perfect tonic for Eastwood, coming between the "Absolute Power," and "True Crime."

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