Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

(In French, On TV, October 2015) Sometimes, you have to let go of narrative and embrace the atmosphere.  Despite it being a murder/courtroom drama, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is best appreciated as an atmospheric look at a southern-US Savannah and its unusual characters.  It’s digressive, tangential, occasionally supernatural, almost uninterested in its own plot.  It lives when it allows its characters to do their own thing, and grows weaker when it gets down to the business of narrative closure.  This is a kind of film made for a particular kind of audience (director Clint Eastwood is often best at ease while idling), but even narrative-driven moviegoers may appreciate the unhurried pace at which it unfolds, almost as if it was an invitation to spend some leisurely time visiting Savannah.  It also helps feature capable actors: Kevin Spacey is essential as a local mogul accused of murder and whose defence essentially rests on being a community pillar.  John Cusack is fine but unchallenging as the audience’s stand-in to the local madness, but The Lady Chabis turns in a great performance by playing herself.  If I had more time, I’d check out the book to confirm that this atmosphere is developed even more fully on the page – and I’d re-watch the film in English to get the fullest Southern-accent experience.

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