Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil could be regarded as the darkest festive movie ever made - - if it weren't so sunny and amiable. Black magic, kinky sexuality and murder is not the stuff that Christmas movies are made of, but the general feel of this film is closer to Our Town than a David Lynch nightmare. By the time we arrive at the final scene, a sort of happy family unit (including the dog) has arisen out of the turmoil. After all, it is a wonderful life.
Savannah is a gorgeous old town, and its tradition-prone society turns a blind eye to eccentricities (such as the man taking his non-existent dog for a daily walk) as long as they don't obstruct the regular flow of things. In a way, the film tells us, strangeness is very much a product of tradition. When Williams shoots his hustler lover (Jude Law), it's not the killing that threatens the order of things (Savannah treats violent death in a casual manner, as shown by a funny scene in which society ladies compare notes on their poor husbands' suicides). Rather, the problem is that the event exposes Williams' sexual preferences.
Spacey gives an elegant, seductive performance that's both eerie and very likable. He seems to be watching us more than we are watching him, and manages to keep us guessing. However, nothing else in the film supports his effort.
John Cusack, charming as always, portrays the writer as little more than an amused spectator, leisurely strolling through a menagerie of whimsical characters. And Clint Eastwood directs in the same way, never really stepping off the guided-tour bus for a wander. Some people who have read John Berendt's non-fiction bestseller - - on which the movie is based - - are disappointed with the adaptation, mainly because they feel that Eastwood hasn't captured the unique atmosphere of the book. It's true that his film never plunges beneath the surface: but that surface has sufficient appeal to keep us entertained.
One of Midnight's major assets is the presence of one Lady Chablis (think of a Deep South RuPaul), who stars as herself. Her connection to the main storyline is minimal, yet a major chunk of the film is dedicated to this flamboyant drag queen, quite simply because she's a born scene-stealer.
As a result, Eastwood allows her to run loose, and the scenes in which she leeringly misbehaves (at a débutante ball and in a hospital) are a knowing and supremely entertaining throwback to classic Hollywood screwball comedies. Midnight might have been a much better-constructed feature if Lady Chablis' role had been cut to measure, but she's such an outrageous performer that she leaves her audience begging for more.
Eastwood seems to be satisfied with creating a light - - sometimes even playful - - film that eschews strong statements or emotions. Crisp characterisations make Midnight a pleasant pastime, although when it's over, you're not really sure what it was all about.