Ghosts of Mississippi

on December 20, 1996 by Alex Demyanenko
Thirty-one years after civil rights activist Medgar Evers was felled by an assassin's bullet on the front porch of his Mississippi home, his killer was finally convicted for the crime. Although justice has been done in the sentencing of white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, the same can't be said of Evers' life and work. With "Ghosts of Mississippi," director Rob Reiner has once again taken Hollywood's easy way out in telling a tale of racism and injustice. As did Alan Parker with "Mississippi Burning," Reiner has fashioned a film seen through the eyes of a white protagonist. Consequently, although certainly unknowingly, he has done a disservice to the legacy of a great humanitarian leader. Also, unlike Parker's similarly themed 1988 effort, "Ghosts of Mississippi" isn't compelling in the least. Reiner lacks Parker's talent as a filmmaker and, as a result, his movie could be called "Mississippi Boring."
   With prodding by Evers' widow Myrlie Evers (Whoopi Goldberg), assistant D.A. Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin) decides to reopen the Evers case. Despite public and private pressures to let the past lie (his seething racist wife leaves him), DeLaughter makes it his duty to bring Beckwith (James Woods) to justice for his own conscience and for his native state as well.
   It's scary to think that Reiner is already stealing from himself after directing only a half-dozen movies. Reiner gives the relationship between DeLaughter and Evers as much depth as a silly romance ("When Bobby Met Myrlie..."?), with Goldberg delivering one of the worst performances in memory. Her acting is dreadfully mannered, and with no orgasm-in-a-deli jokes to save her she flounders. Baldwin is sufficient, but his extended courtroom climax (see "A Few Good Men") makes Chris Darden look like Clarence Darrow. Woods is great, but he's given such a ridiculously slight role that he is relegated to choking on scenery. As a result, his caricature becomes laughable (a la "This Is Spinal Tap"), not menacing.
   Three decades after his death, Evers' killer is finally in jail where he belongs. Unfortunately, the activist's story still has not been properly put onscreen. Starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods, Craig T. Nelson, William H. Macy and Susanna Thompson. Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Lewis Colick. Produced by Rob Reiner, Frederick Zollo, Nicholas Paleologos and Andrew Scheinman. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for a strong scene of violence and for racial dialogue. Running time: 123 min
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