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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Blu-ray)
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // September 27, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted September 26, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

I could not help but picture "House of Cards'" Frank Underwood throughout much of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, mostly because Kevin Spacey's southern aristocratic drawl is so similar in the two projects. This Clint Eastwood crime drama is a bit rough around the edges, but offers consistent entertainment thanks to a stellar cast and gripping narrative. Spacey plays Jim Williams, a self-made businessman accused of murder in sweaty Savannah, Georgia. The character is based in fact, and the real James Arthur "Jim" Williams was tried four times for the same crime in Georgia. John Cusack is John Kelso, the magazine reporter sent to write a puff piece on Williams' Christmas party before getting sucked into the courtroom spectacle. The recently deceased The Lady Chablis steals every scene she is in as Chablis Deveau, a comedic drag performer and would-be witness at trial. Not quite as gripping as the non-fiction novel by John Berendt upon which it is based, the film nonetheless offers consistently twisty and often unexpected Southern upper-crust thrills.

I have not been enamored with Eastwood's recent directorial efforts, but there was a period in the 1990s when he was turning out solid drama after solid drama, including Unforigven and True Crime. This adaptation came just three years after the release of Berendt's celebrated novel, and Eastwood certainly had his work cut out for him capturing the eccentricities of the story's numerous characters. As Berendt took some creative license with his novel, so does John Lee Hancock with his screenplay. I have heard people criticize this adaptation as watered down, but I think Hancock and Eastwood actually capture the soul of Berendt's novel nicely while remembering the bounds of their format. This is high-society melodrama, and Eastwood knows how to ride a wave of salacious class warfare without getting too bogged down in pomp and circumstance.

Spacey's Williams helped rejuvenate Savannah and in doing so made himself millions. The barely closeted homosexual shoots his drunken lover, Billy Hanson (Jude Law), under questionable circumstances, and ends up on trial for murder. The film offers a host of colorful supporting characters to fill in the motivational gaps, including the aforementioned Chablis, darling, who has no problems telling Kelso her thoughts on Williams and what she knows about mean ole Billy. Also on tour are Minerva (Irma P. Hall), a voodoo follower and recurring figure who personifies the film's title, which references the hours around midnight reserved for good magic and bad magic. There's also the townsman who walks an invisible and long-dead dog, and a local scientist constantly surrounded by swarming flies. Some of these characters wind up in the courtroom, either in the jury box or on the witness stand, during the trial, and their stories are anything but polite.

Law enforcement doubts Williams' story about shooting Billy in self defense, and Kelso stays in Savannah both as a witness to Billy's drunken behavior on the night of his death and to write a novel about the surrounding circus. The setting is a jazz-scored, humid, heightened reality, and some of the drama is too over-the-top to completely believe. Even so, Eastwood crafts a film of intrigue even if you know the true story. There is something blissfully familiar about this material, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil greets you like an old friend. Perhaps it is Savannah, and perhaps it is Eastwood's doing. The cast does a fine job with the material; even Eastwood's own daughter, Alison, is decent in a supporting part. The film tackles - though not always head-on - some prickly issues about gender, race and sexuality, and many of its characters live on the fringe of a quietly tolerant society. When the boat gets rocked, as Williams quickly discovers, the public is not always so forgiving.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is pleasantly film-like, with natural grain and wonderful, thick detail and texture. Close-ups reveal intimate facial details and the wonderful intricacies of the Savannah sets. Wide shots are generally clear and well resolved. Skin tones are accurate, colors are well saturated, and shadow detail is impressive in the misty, nighttime scenes. Print damage is very minimal, and I noticed only minor aliasing. Compression artifacts are similarly minimal, and this is an overall solid transfer.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix handles the dialogue-driven material with ease. Said dialogue is clear and without hiss and distortion, whether delivered from the center channel or directionally. Light ambient effects surround the viewer, and the sparse action effects make use of the surrounds. Lennie Niehaus' score is appropriately weighty and balanced nicely with effects and dialogue. Range and fidelity are both good. English SDH subtitles are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release is part of Warner Brothers' "Archive Collection" and is manufactured on demand on a standard Blu-ray disc with artwork. As several readers have noted, Warner Brothers does factory press these discs in small batches, and it is the quality of a typical wide release. The disc is packed in a standard Blu-ray case. Extras include the Theatrical Trailer and The Real People in the Garden, a vintage featurette that offers a tour of Savannah and interviews with the real people involved in the story.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the celebrated novel offers engaging drama, colorful characters and a richly authentic setting. Kevin Spacey and John Cusack lead an excellent cast in this Southern dramatic thriller about a man on trial for killing his lover. Warner Brothers' Blu-ray offers strong picture and sound and is Highly Recommended.


Additional screenshots:

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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