Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Review

With a penchant for press relations, Clint Eastwood in the later stages of the 1990s was obsessed by the charms and cutthroat nature of newspaper reporting. True Crime is better for showcasing that rougher edge than Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, his preceding piece to the against-the-clock thrills found in True Crime. Murder is still the key to this feature, with a reporter usurped by a sudden revelation in a case he is covering. A classic case of getting too close to your sources, and the dangers of that are adapted briskly and intensely by Eastwood. He ducks behind the camera and throws John Cusack into the spotlight. It is a sink or swim situation for the up and comer. 

Real journalism and the practice that surrounds it would say that the relationship between reporter John Kelso (Cusack) and the risqué millionaire, James Williams. Their friendship is a steadily developed angle, but one that does not take up much time. Eastwood is rather basic with the direction of this one. Swooping shots of lovely landscapes adorn the opening credits, and the sombre music that peters out through the first few moments does little to set the mood. Shaky at the best of times, but unfortunately unknowable at the worst. There is no sense of realism to their relationship, but it is hard enough to adapt a relationship that feels stripped out of Bonfire of the Vanities 

Tom Wolfe would not pursue this festering relationship between press and influencer. To do so would detract from the variance of characters and their background. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil does not keep the two distant. They are naturally suspicious of one another, but Eastwood rarely pursues this fascinating, underlying theme. When he does (and it is rare for him to do so), he misses the point of his own creation. These are the bastions of two different themes. Its characters provide no middle ground for the audience to get themselves comfortable. No pursuit of that shady middle where so many of the people that surround Kelso and Williams will find themselves. Pursuing that would bring such incredible depth to these leading men, and it is a shame indeed that it is not followed up on.  

Fairly forgettable, but the key consistency to Eastwood’s features is strong performances. Spacey and Cusack make for significantly strong leading men, but it is what they offer thematically that fails to impress. They are the binary opposites. Good and evil. Eastwood has sadly forgotten that the most important builder of character is the setting. It is what these characters are adorned in and surrounded by that will set them up for success. The chemistry between the two leads is one thing, but having the backing of style and setting is far more helpful. Worth it just for the characters, there is something within Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that does provide a grander scale of entertainment, but that feels more a benefit of the performers, rather than the man sitting in the director’s chair.  

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