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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (review)

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Murder Chic

I can’t wait to visit Savannah after seeing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (starring Kevin Spacey, John Cusack). What a gorgeous, decadent little town! Of course, I’m sure that whatever hasn’t been fictionalized in this based-on-a-true-story film has been exaggerated, but still…

John Kelso (Cusack) is a writer for Town & Country magazine who ends up in Savannah covering a famous Christmas party thrown by nouveau-riche antiques dealer Jim Williams (Spacey), but a much juicer story comes along: After the party winds down that night, Jim kills Billy Hanson, a male hustler who was, ahem, in Jim’s employ. Self-defense, Jim claims. But there’s evidence to the contrary.
Midnight has a wonderful documentary feel to it: There is no score other than ambient music at the parties John attends, and some of the dialog sounds almost improvised. The story unravels at its own slow, languid pace, which I found really drew me into its strange arena. And there’s a timelessness about Midnight. There are no cell phones, computers, or late-model cars to be seen, characters are either dressed classically or in their own bizarre styles, and nothing of the larger world outside intrudes. This could be today or any time in the past 30 years. (Apparently the real story behind the film occurred sometime in the ’80s.)

But the coolest thing about Midnight is that it has an almost science-fiction aura to it. I’m talking about real SF — not “sci-fi” (aka “skiffy” to fans of more literary SF), which uses the trappings of SF without the thought and care that goes into the real thing (Independence Day is “skiffy,” for example; “Deep Space Nine” is SF). Midnight creates an almost alien culture — alien at least to this native Yankee — one in which voodoo is a force to be reckoned with and murder is almost chic. As John Kelso notes on the phone to his editor back in New York: “It’s like Gone with the Wind on mescaline. They’re all drunk and heavily armed. They walk invisible dogs here… New York is boring.”

New York, of course, is one of the few places in the world that is decidedly not boring. So hopefully I’ll be off to Savannah soon to check it out the city that trumps the Big Apple. A word of thanks to my friend and frequent partner in moviegoing crime, Miss Black — these columns often grow out of our conversation after a movie, and she offers invaluable feedback on them.

MPAA: rated R for language and brief violence

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
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