Ghosts of Mississippi
Rob Reiner's latest film takes the tragedy of the murder of Medgar
Evers and turns it into a watered down Grishamesque southern lawyer story.
In very quick opening scenes, we learn that the racist Byron
De La Beckwith (James Woods) shoots civil rights leader Medgar Evers
in the back. That's about all we learn about those two central figures
throughout the course of the movie. Instead, the action flashes
forward to 1989, where after two mistrials and 25 years, the case lands
in the lap of assistant DA Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin).
Bobby is at first hesitant to tackle the old case, but gradually
he turns around, acknowledges his own racism and that of those
around him, builds a case and begins to prosecute with a vengeance.
Those familiar with this type of movie can follow the plot
with their eyes closed. There's the bomb threat, the meaningful
discussion with the children, the reluctant witness, the familial
conflict...they're all here. The fact that the events of this
movie really happened make the movie's faults all the more evident.
Where there were real people, there are now cariactures; real events
are now predictable stock situations. We never get to understand
any of the characters, and the two most connected with the case,
Byron De La Beckwith and Medgar Evers, remain undecoded ciphers.
Alec Baldwin's turn as the white southern lawyer reveals no new
shadings to this commonplace character. He gets a bit of help
from the supporting cast: William H. Macy and Craig T. Nelson
are colorful as some of his co-workers. But Whoopi Goldberg
as Medgar's widow, Myrlie, comes off rather weakly, serving more
as a plot device than a true character. There's a good,
insightful story to be told about the life and death of Medgar Evers.
Ghosts of Mississippi isn't it.
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