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movie and film reviews

Volume 15/Issue 25

Reel to Real
by Chuc LaVenture

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil

I guess we've all heard of the best- selling book by John Berendt. It has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for more than three years. If, like me, you've read the book, all I can say about the movie is, don't bother. I believe that the reason Mr. Berendt's book has remained a top seller for so long is his rich characterizations. The plot is intriguing, but it could not be carried without the vibrant, colorful characters. It is unfortunate that in the span of a two-hour and forty-five minute movie these characters could not be made three dimensional.

The movie plot diverges a good deal from the book. The movie opens with John Cusack, as a reporter for Town And Country, arriving in Savannah to cover a famous, and very elegant, Christmas party. This party is thrown every year by Mr. Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), a local purveyor of antiques. Mr. Williams is very wealthy, and enjoys the prominent position he holds in Savannah society. Mr. Williams is also gay. He has in his employ a young man by the name of Danny Hansford, one whom my mother would refer to as gutter trash, whose job it is to help Mr. Williams restore antiques, as well as to sleep with him. Danny was known around Savannah for his loaded car, bad temper, and elevated skill as a hustler. The plot of the movie revolves strictly around the death of Danny, and the trial of Jim Williams for having shot him.

The producers, and the director Clint Eastwood, attempt to include as many of the characters from the book as possible, but as I've already stated, the characters are too large. They simply could not be realized in the few short scenes they are allotted. Joe Odom is a ne'er-do-well lawyer who has been disbarred for financial malfeasance. He squats in elegant homes around Savannah. While at these homes he throws nightly parties where all and sundry show. Joe is a main source of gossip for John Cusack's character. Joe is also used to introduce other characters. One of those characters is Mandy Nichols, a sort of gadabout who lives an hour and a half outside of Savannah but makes the trip almost daily, though she doesn't mind the drive because it gives her the chance to do her nails. It is unfortunate that in the movie Mandy is passed off as a love interest for John Cusack. A bad rewrite on the book. We also meet the Lady Chablis. The Lady is a pre-op transsexual drag queen, with all that entails. She's got a mouth on her and her life is drama. She is, unfortunately, used only as comic relief in the movie. Minerva, a voodoo priestess who is hired by Jim Williams to put the gris-gris on the prosecution is one of the better defined characters in the movie. Her voodoo rites and slightly psychotic affect make her much more rounded than most of these characters. We do get a true sense of who she is.

So to continue to carp, this is not the movie to see if you've read the book. You will be constantly disappointed by the change in the sequence of events, and the loss of characters. But the most severely disappointing aspect of this film for me was the change in the nature of the book. The movie portrays John Cusack's character as being an amateur private detective for Mr. Williams. The book never gives us this impression. Mr. Berendt throughout the book remains an objective observer. The book also never gives any indication as to the sexual orientation of Mr. Berendt, while the movie portrays him as being typically heterosexual. I believe that if you haven't read the book you might be able to sit through this one. But again, if you have read it, avoid the movie.

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