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MOVIE REVIEW – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rating ****

This colorful, slow-moving film is like a giant gourmet banquet where gloved waiters bring in course after course of incredibly rich food. Set in charming yet eerie Savannah, Georgia, it fictionalizes the true story of Jim Williams, a wealthy gay antiques dealer who killed a male prostitute. Gossipmongers and curiosity-seekers feasted on the case for months. Since the movie (based on the best-selling book of the same title by John Berendt) was released, Savannah has been mobbed by tourists.

Eastwood lets us track along with writer John Kelso (John Cusak) into places normally closed to visitors. We become voyeurs in an inbred little town where rituals die hard and 18th-century mansions are so big they can cover an entire block. It's a place where weapons are part of the social fabric, the neighbors serve canapés at a murder scene, and the nouveau riche like Williams (Kevin Spacey) can buy their way into the aristocracy: "...the very thing they're forced to sell. When their money runs out – and it always runs out – then all they're left with is their lovely manners."

Spacey plays a very believable Williams, who along with his wealth acquired the flawless etiquette, perfect accent and impeccable wardrobe of a southern-gentleman with a quietly ruthless take on life. Eastwood's drop-dead gorgeous daughter, Alison, does a good job as a middle-class woman trapped in a weird society. But the real star of the show is cross-dresser Lady Chablis (played by her/himself) whose irreverence for mainstream morality provides some of the movie's best moments. Other endearing locals who play themselves are party pianist Emma Kelly and hairstylist Jerry Spence.

Irma P. Hall plays the amusing voodoo queen Minerva, who embodies the spirit side of things. Her rituals take place in the "colored" cemetery during the dead hour: half an hour before midnight (for the good) and half an hour afterwards (for the evil). Her voodoo dolls and amulets keep popping up everywhere, too – even in the courtroom during the trial.

While the film's plot line revolves around a crime, the real story is the culture, people and architecture of Savannah. Two excellent companion pieces to this movie that help explain the town's eccentricities and culture are the A&E television documentaries: Midnight in Savannah (the true story of the murder and explanations of the weird stuff, such as the man walking the invisible dog and The Married Women's Card Club), and Haunted History: Haunted Savannah (a documentary that looks into Savannah's spirit world).

The 155-minute 1997 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is available on video in the GreatestEscapes.com store: www.greatestescapesstore.com/videos_1.html.