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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
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Narrator a NY magazine writer of food reviews. Sitting in one of NY's flash new restaurants and looking at menu prices for entrees $19, $29, $39, $49, when it occurred to him that he had been reading the exact same brackets of prices earlier in the day, but they were for airline tickets to other parts of the country. For the price of a good meal in NY you cd spend 3 days in another city.
"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'' is a book that exists as a conspiracy between the author and the reader: John Berendt paints a portrait of a city so eccentric, so dripping with Southern Gothic weirdness, that it can't survive for long when it's removed from the life-support system of our imagination. Clint Eastwood's film is a determined attempt to be faithful to the book's spirit, but something ineffable is lost just by turning on the camera: Nothing we see can be as amazing as what we've imagined.
The book tells the story of a New York author who visits Savannah, Ga., is bewitched, and takes an apartment there. Gradually he meets the local fauna, including a gay antiques dealer, a piano bar owner of no fixed abode, a drag queen, a voodoo priestess, a man who keeps flies on leashes, a man who walks an invisible dog and the members of the Married Women's Card Club. The plot grows labyrinthine after the antiques dealer is charged with the murder of a young hustler.
Berendt introduces these people and tells their stories in a bemused, gossipy fashion; he's a natural storyteller who knows he has great stories to tell, and relishes the telling. He is not, however, really a major player in the book, and the movie makes a mistake by assigning its central role to a New York writer, now named John Kelso, through whose hands all of the action must pass.
There is nothing wrong with the performance by John Cusack except that it is unnecessary; if John Lee Hancock's screenplay had abandoned the Kelso character and just jumped into the midst of Savannah's menagerie with both feet, the movie might have had more energy and color. Or if Kelso had been a weird character, too, that might have helped; he's written and played as a flat, bland witness, whose tentative love affair with a local temptress (Alison Eastwood) is so abashed we almost wonder if he's ever dated before.
Berendt's nonfiction book (the credits inexplicably call it a novel) circulates with amusement and incredulity among unforgettable characters. But the screenplay whacks the anecdotal material into shape to fit the crime-and-courtroom genre.
A doped-up young bisexual hothead (Jude Law) is introduced in two overplayed scenes, and then found dead on the floor of antiques dealer Jim Williams' office. His death inspired an unprecedented four trials in real life, which the movie can be excused for reducing to one--but as the conventions of courtroom melodrama take over, what makes Savannah unique gradually fades out of the picture. Jack Thompson gives a solid performance as Sonny Seiler, the defense attorney, but he's from John Grisham territory, not Savannah.
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