Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a 1997 American crime drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, and an adaptation of the eponymous 1994 non-fiction novel by John Berendt, which was based on events that took place in Savannah, Georgia in the 1980s.
The film features Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams, a man on trial for murder, and John Cusack as John Kelso, a writer covering the case.
Several changes were made in adapting the film from the novel. Many of the more colorful characters were eliminated or combined into composite characters. The writer (played by Cusack) was based upon Berendt but was given a love interest not featured in the book, played by Eastwood's daughter Alison Eastwood.
The multiple Williams trials were combined into one on-screen trial. Jim Williams' real life attorney Sonny Seiler appears in the movie in the role of Judge White, the presiding judge of the trial.
This panoramic tale of Savannah's eccentricities focuses on a murder and the subsequent trial of Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), a self-made man, art collector, antiques dealer, bon vivant and semi-closeted homosexual.
John Kelso (John Cusack), a magazine reporter, finds himself in Savannah amid the beautiful architecture and odd doings to write a feature on one of Williams' famous Christmas parties.
He is intrigued by Williams from the start, but his curiosity is piqued when he meets Jim's violent, young, sexy lover Billy (Jude Law). Later that night, Billy is dead and Kelso stays on to cover the murder trial.
Along the way he encounters the irrepressible Lady Chablis, a drag queen commedienne; Sonny Seiler, lawyer to Williams, whose famous dog UGA is the official mascot of the Georgia Bulldogs, an odd man who keeps flies attached to mini leashes on his lapels and threatens daily to poison the water supply; the Married Ladies Card Club; and Minerva, a spiritualist.
Between being Jim's buddy, cuddling up to a torch singer, meeting every eccentric in Savannah, participating in midnight graveyard rituals and helping solve the mysteries surrounding Billy's murder, Kelso has his hands full.
- Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams
- John Cusack as John Kelso
- Jack Thompson as Sonny Seiler
- Irma P. Hall as Minerva
- Jude Law as Billy Hanson
- Alison Eastwood as Mandy Nicholls
- Paul Hipp as Joe Odom
- The Lady Chablis as Chablis Deveau
- Kim Hunter as Betty Harty
- Geoffrey Lewis as Luther Driggers
- Bob Gunton as Finley Largent
- Richard Herd as Henry Skerridge
- Leon Rippy as Detective Boone
- Sonny Seiler as Judge White
- Dorothy Loudon as Serena Dawes
The principal photography began in the spring of 1997 and was shot in Savannah, Georgia.
The film featured a cameo by Uga V, the English bulldog live mascot of the University of Georgia, playing his father, Uga IV. The Uga mascots live in Savannah between football games.
"Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" was a box office bomb, debuting at #6 at the box office & grossing only $5,233,658 in its opening weekend.
In total, it grossed $25.1 million to an estimated $30 million budget.
The film received mixed reviews and has a score of 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, however, its casting was praised for Kevin Spacey's likeness to Williams.
Roger Ebert gave the movie three in a half stars, saying: "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a book that exists as a conspiracy between the author and the reader: John Berendt paints a portrait of a city so eccentric, so dripping with Southern Gothic weirdness, that it can't survive for long when it's removed from the life-support system of our imagination. Clint Eastwood's film is a determined attempt to be faithful to the book's spirit, but something ineffable is lost just by turning on the camera: Nothing we see can be as amazing as what we've imagined."