Sight and Sound - 03/01/1998
"...Kevin Spacey puts in yet another effortlessly suave turn..."
Box Office - 02/01/1998
"...There are some great character studies in this movie..."
Bringing John Berendt's international best-selling novel, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, to the screen must have been a challenge. The book is essentially an anecdotal travelogue of the fascinating city of Savannah, Georgia. The filmmakers decided to add a character, John Kelso (well played by John Cusack), a writer from New York, who's meant to represent Berendt's point of view. They also put most of the focus of the narrative on the murder trial of local millionaire socialite Jim Williams (the redoubtable Kevin Spacey). This is slightly problematic in that Kelso, a mere observer, now becomes the central character of the film. But director Clint Eastwood (straying from his usual milieu, and, atypically, not appearing the film) and writer John Lee Hancock still manage to capture the quirky spirit of the book. They're greatly aided in this regard by the lush images of cinematographer Jack N. Green and the detailed work of production designer Henry Bumstead, who create just the right atmosphere for the small city and its environs. The strong cast, including actual Savannah residents such as sparkplug transsexual the Lady Chablis, makes the film an enjoyable idyll in a strange yet welcoming place.
A New York magazine reporter becomes caught up in the wiles and eccentricities of genteel society in Savannah, Georgia, when the host of the Christmas party he is covering is charged with murder. Clint Eastwood directs a lush production whose plot matches the leisurely pace set by the characters.
The film was shot on location in Savannah, Georgia, and in Los Angeles.
Several of the colorful local characters in the book, including the Lady Chablis, hairdresser Jerry Spence, and the piano player, Emma Kelly, play themselves in the film. Sonny Seiler, Jim Williams's lawyer, who is played by Jack Thompson in the film, plays Judge White.
Former University of Georgia mascot Uga IV (the bulldog) is played by his own offspring, Uga V, who himself was named top college mascot by Sports Illustrated.
The film's soundtrack is a tribute to Savannah's own Johnny Mercer, featuring versions of Mercer songs by such artists as kd lang, Paula Cole, Alison Krauss, Rosemary Clooney, and Joe Williams. Clint Eastwood himself contributes vocals to a version of "Accentuate the Positive."
The actual case against Jim Williams, as detailed in the book, went on for several years. He was originally convicted of murder, but the conviction was thrown out on appeal. There were two more trials before he was acquitted.