Cameron's Review of Ghosts of Mississippi

  • 20 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
    Ghosts of Mississippi

    Ghosts of Mississippi (1997)

    Rob Reiner is heading back to the courtroom, as well as Mississippi along the way, y'all, only this time, he doesn't have Jack Nicholson "standing by him", though it's not you should worry too much, because Reiner at least got an equally effective dirtbag, and it's not Kathy Bates. Okay, first off, this film has an awesome title, though one that doesn't really seem to fit all that much, as I'd imagine anyone killed by James Woods wouldn't have a ghost, seeing as how their souls would be sucked out because James Woods is just that startlingly evil. Man, James Woods is so convincing at playing a bad guy that he probably did end up convicted for the murder of Medgar Evers, or at least that's my excuse for James Woods' not showing up in anything for the past couple of years. Okay, I joke, but Woods has been around, it's just that no one notice because his streak of films that a few good men-I mean, few people were actually going to see didn't end with this film, which I guess isn't too much of a shame, seeing as how his streak of decent films that few people were actually going to see was pretty much on its way out with this film. So yeah, this film definately isn't "A Few Good Men", or at least not as far as financial success is concerned, and whether you can handle it or not, that's the truth, something that I'd imagine Rob Reiner doesn't have too much trouble handling by now, as I'd imagine he's gotten used to financial disappoints with his films from this production on, and it helps that, with "Stand by Me", "The Princess Bride", "Misery", "A Few Good Men" and relatively more recent financial fluke "The Bucket List", he's pretty much set as far as money is concerned, as his political part will tell you. Meathead here can afford to be a liberal, though he evidently can't afford an editor. No, this film isn't that loose, yet it's not all that tight either, for although this film is a decent one, it does outstay its welcome, which isn't to say that that's its only problem.

    What very nearly saves this film as genuinely rewarding is, as cruel irony would have it, one of the key reasons why the final product ultimately falls as underwhelming: ambition, which graces the film with inspiration that really powers it in some places, yet gets to be overbearing in far too many other places, tainting the film in a kind of awkward overambition that brings more to light, if not all-out ignites lapses in subtlety, whether it be in its portrayal of Mississippi folk, who comes off a cheesily obnoxious, or, of course, in its themes, for although this story is indeed worthy one that I'm all for, the liberal undertones undercut some of the impact of this important tale. The thematic and tonal overbearingness of this film isn't too terribly intense, nor is it even all that frequent, yet it is there, and more prominent than it should be, thus the story finds itself hurt by a limiting of subtlety, made all the worse by the story's being structured, albeit reasonably well, though not quite with too many layers. The story structure and telling is certainly hardly devoid of dynamicity and depth, yet all too often, things are tackled rather superficially, with limited tonal range to emphasize the limited story progression range, thus repetition ensues, not too blandly, yet blandly enough for the film to find itself meandering, which would be more forgivable were it not for this film's simply being just too long. Clocking in at 130 minutes, this film isn't exactly sprawling, being actually shorter than Rob Reiner's previous, much more well-recieved cinematic visit to the courtroom, yet for this subject matter, the film outstays its welcome, not exactly meditating upon total nothingness or finding itself too bloated with excess material, but lingering along its points and leaving steam to slip by the minute. As I'll touch more upon later, this film does indeed have its high points, with one of those high points being the opening and first act, which is so slickly-crafted and resonant, with intrigue and entertainment that establishes some pretty high promises for this film to live up to. Shortly thereafter, the film slips into a body that doesn't totally dismiss much of the feel of the initial beats of the film, and that is both why this film nearly achieves the goodness it started off having and why this film fails to achieve the goodness it started off having, as there is only so much rise and fall to this film's structure, thus momentum dwindles, little by little, before finally sputtering out, certainly not to where you fall out of the film, but certainly to where you'll find yourself checking your watch and the film wander around for far too long, until it finally finds itself unable to achieve those promises established by its strong early moments. With that said, this film's enjoyability most certainly doesn't end with those early acts, because although the film ultimately betrays both its potential and promises with perhaps too much ambition, as I said, from this ambition spawns inspiration, and enough of it to keep the film, or at least the script, going.

    Lewis Colick makes more than a few mistakes when executing this promising project, yet for every one of those mistakes, there is a strength that follows that leaves you to all but reinvest yourself in Colick's portrayal of this tale, or at least the cleverness of Colick's writing, which finds itself turning the occasional improvable piece of dialogue to give us an additional reminder that we're certainly not dealing with Aaron Sorkin here, yet generally delivers on quite a few lines the range from decent to borderline razor-sharp, thus livening up the story already brought reasonably well to life by what Colick does, in fact, do well with this subject matter. Again, Colick's story structure is almost quite decidedly the faultiest writing aspect, as Colick, at least at the film's body, fails to penetrate as profoundly as he should into the story's depths, while keeping dynamicity in the plot progression all too limited all too often, but when the story structure finally picks up, Colick delivers, whether it be through the aforementioned gripping initial hook or through the occasional piece of punch during the generally meandering body to momentarily restore the film's initial momentum and keep you well reminded of the film's depth, subsequently underexplored though, it may be. True, the high points in the final execution of the promising project only remind you of the loss of potential, but it also reminds you of what potential made it through, because although the final product doesn't live up to its concept, it stays consistently engaging, and for this credit not only goes out to Colick, but the man in charge of bringing Colick's vision to life. Whether it's because he's just too much of a liberal or because he simply went too far, director Rob Reiner is the true culprit behind this film's overambition, being all too aware of the weight of this subject matter, which of course isn't entirely a bad thing, because with awkward desperation to get things just right comes inspiration, which finds itself tainted by overambition, yet potent enough to keep the film charming, when not genuinely resonant when it most has to be. If nothing else, Reiner succeeds in keeping this film surprisingly and fortunately quite entertaining, keeping things lively and charming to keep you going, until inspiration finds itself used to particularly good use when dramatic impact finally arises, which isn't to say that Reiner doesn't owe much of what potency there is within this film's engagement value to his onscreen performers, some of whom are most certainly better than others, because although James Woods isn't quite as prominent as you might think, when he does arrive, he steals the show and convinces more than his old man makeup, delivering on not only an impeccable rural Mississippi drawl, but his trademark piercingly sinister charisma that draws the dark depths from Byron De La Beckwith and defines him as an enthralling antagonist. Every sequence in which Byron De La Beckwith is pronounced is stolen by Woods, yet those sequences are relatively few and far between, as this is Alec Baldwin's show, and he owns it with his own trademark charisma, as well as a presence rich with depth that is diluted by the atmospheric faults in the film, yet remains pronounced enough to define the humanity in Bobby DeLaughter, a good, justice-seeking man who, thanks to Baldwin's portrayal, charms and engages thoroughly. I wish I could say that the film engages as thoroughly as its lead, but after a while, the film loses too much steam, but still holds onto more than enough for it get by, charming, entertaining and occasionally moving enough for you to walk away having genuinely enjoyed yourself and absorbed a fair bit to ponder upon.

    To close this case, the film all too often slips out of subtlety into a bit of thematic and even tonal overbearingness, made all the worse by only so many tonal and beat layers to this story, which all too often meanders along, and with excessive length bringing this more to attention, the film finds itself without enough steam to reward, yet still with enough steam to get by, as Lewis Colick delivers on generally fine dialogue and quite a few moments of true pick-up in the story structure, made all the sharper by James Woods' particularly show-stealing performance, Alec Baldwin's engaging lead performance and moments of true effectiveness within Rob Reiner's overambitious yet inspired direction, which occasionally turns in a moving moment, and consistently turns in enough charm and entertainment value to make "Ghosts of Mississippi" (Seriously, I'm digging that title) an enjoyable effort, even if it is one that stands to deliver more on what it promises.

    2.5/5 - Fair

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