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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Reviews

Long, lumpy and sadly charmless, this adaptation of John Berendt's nonfiction portrait of Savannah, GA, refracted through the prism of a scandalous true-crime story, tramples all over the silkily seductive voice that makes the book so compulsively readable and eerily haunting. In order to compress and give linear structure to the dense but loosely connected web of gossip Berendt wove into an unlikely bestseller, screenwriter Lee Hancock invented the character of writer John Kelso (John Cusack), who's sent to Savannah to cover the lavish annual Christmas soiree of wealthy, homosexual antiques dealer Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). After the party, Williams shoots his lover, volatile hustler Billy Hanson (Jude Law) -- characterized by one local harpy as "a good time that had not yet been had by all" -- and claims it was in self-defense. Kelso decides to hang around and see if there's a book in the trial, the better to serve as the audience's guide through a gallery of hothouse personalities as bizarrely warped as wax figures in some eccentric house of horrors. Cusack, who's apparently meant to be from New York, spends most of the film with his tiny mouth hanging open in an unlikely comic-book expression of shock at the baroque goings-on. The Southern Gothic material is all in Berendt's book, but onscreen his cast of fascinating eccentrics quickly descends into pointless grotesquerie, in part because time constraints force most of them into walk-on parts. The film's unquestioned star is transvestite performer The Lady Chablis, a pivotal figure in Berendt's book who plays herself in the film and is an absolutely riveting -- if not altogether likable -- example of what it means to turn life into performance.