Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Photo courtesy of South Magazine

Initially, when I first heard about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I assumed the film would be heavily based in the paranormal. It's something that you generally come to expect when dealing with anything based in Savannah, Georgia, one of the most haunted cities in America.

But even as outlandish as the plot might seem, this film is anything but fiction. John Berendt (John Cusack) was a real journalist who, after meeting James Arthur Williams (Kevin Spacey) became entangled in a court case set to prove that Williams had murdered his lover in the now notorious Mercer House only days after Berendt arrived in town.

The film chronicles the arrival of Berendt in Savannah and tells the story of the legal proceeding that begin after Billy Hanson (real name Danny Hansford), played by Jude Law, is shot in what Williams describes as self defense. Of course the ever suave Spacey portrays Williams flawlessly: He seems like the perfect gentleman , yet there always seems to be something lurking under the calm surface. Berendt, a New Yorker, is immediately charmed by the southern upstart and begins to chronicle the proceedings for his new book.

We are then taken through a lengthy court battle in which nothing is out of bounds. Most notably, Williams' homosexuality is put at the forefront by the District Attorney (Bob Gunton) in hopes of using the jury's typical southern bias against him. Although the film only portrays one court proceeding, in reality Williams became the only man in Georgia to ever be tried four times for the same crime, the timeline may differ, but the end result is the same and the jury finds Williams not guilty.

The real twist is what Williams reveals to Berendt, of course that would be a MAJOR spoiler so I won't let it slip here, but I can tell you that it is executed perfectly by producer and director Clint Eastwood.

There are a few odes to the paranormal throughout though, and many believe that Williams was haunted by his former lover afterwards, causing his death in 1990. Although I can't say for sure if the vengeful spirit was responsible, it is a pretty good story to add to the list of the two other suspicious deaths that took place in the same house in Savannah, Georgia.

In real life Berendts book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was massively successful, spending 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, making it the longest standing bestseller of the list's history.

If you are a fan of the true crime genre, or simply a paranormal or history aficionado I implore you to take a look at either the book or the film. It is a wonderful retelling and really brings to light the history and culture of the deep south.

If you have seen the film or read the book I am curious about your opinion, do you think Williams' death in 1990 may have been tied to paranormal activity?

All in all it was a great movie to add to the true crime genre. 3.5 stars.

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