Ghosts Of Mississippi (1996)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Whoopi Goldberg
Extras: Theatrical trailer
Medgar Evers has been one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s in America’s south. Evers was denied access to the University of Mississippi in 1954 for his skin color and from then on, to the day he was cowardly shot in the back on June 12, 1963, he put all his energy into fighting racial and social prejudice.
Rob Reiner, who is usually more at home in the comedy genre, has put a memorial to the civil rights leader in his film "Ghosts Of Mississippi" in 1996 that has just been released on DVD by Warner Home Video.
The same night that John F. Kennedy holds his historic speech to rid America of racial segregation, Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith (James Woods) is cowardly shooting Medgar Evers in the back, in his own driveway as he returns home from work. Evers is dying in a pool of blood in the arms of his wife and his three little children who watch in horror as their father passes away.
Although De La Beckwith is the prime suspect in the following case, a friend of his produces an alibi for the racist and after two trials, both resulting in hung juries consisting entirely of white jurors, the case is dismissed from the courts and the murderer walks free.
Never giving up hope, Evers’ widow, Myrlie (Whoopi Goldberg), attempts once again to have the case re-opened 30 years after the incident. She is hopeful that after all this time it would be possible to have a fair trial with a mixed jury that would eventually bring justice to the man who killed her husband and publicly bragged about it after the trials. At the District Attorney’s office however she learns that all the evidence and records from the original case have been lost and that there is little hope the case could be re-opened. Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin), a young prosecutor and father of three himself, feels it is time to serve justice in this case and starts anew, gathering evidence and information in order to re-open the case and bring De La Beckwith to trial.
Although Alec Baldwin is the movie’s main character, it is ultimately James Woods who puts in the most memorable performance. He is frighteningly impressive in his portrayal as the arrogant and snotty supremacist who matter-of-factly confides in the prosecutor – off the record of course – how he killed Evers and how he ranks the life of a deer above that of a black man.
From the movie’s opening minutes, he manages to create a character that is so abominable that we want to see him put away. With every appearance of Woods on the screen he increases this impression, until in the film’s final minutes we are so appalled by the character of De La Beckwith that it is impossible to fathom how someone could have possibly supported this animal. Hardly surprising, Woods received an Academy Award nomination for his powerful portrayal in this film.
Nonetheless there are some problems with the film, the most obvious being that it often feels as if we’re watching from the inside out. Although DeLaughter has some passionate interest in the case, his emotional attachment is somewhat limited. Although the danger is rising as the case is heating up, the threat he is putting himself and his family into is never really palpable.
Myrlie is portrayed as a distant outsider almost, and as the carrier of the real drama of the story, this stylistic decision reduces the dramatic and emotional impact of the film to a handful of scenes, while it could potentially permeate the entire picture if the focus were on her.
Warner Home Video’s release of "Ghosts Of Mississippi" on this DVD is a great looking presentation. The disc contains a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> version of the movie that is matted at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as well as a <$PS,fullframe> presentation. It is an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer, adding image information at the top and bottom of the screen rather than cropping the image on the sides to create the desired 4:3 aspect ratio.
Especially the <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer is highly detailed, finely restoring every bit of information from the original film print. Defect in the print are very limited to a few dust marks. Colors are well delineated in this transfer and always natural looking. Blacks are deep and solid, but never washing out the shadows. Highlights are bright and solid, and combined with the deep blacks create a very dimensional image. However quite a bit of edge-enhancement has been applied to this transfer to give it a ‘sharper’ appearance. The enhancement is a tad exaggerated at times, creating almost noticeable halos around high contrast areas of the image. The compression has been done carefully and compression artifacts like <$pixelation,pixelation> are not evident in the film’s presentation.
"Ghosts Of Mississippi" features <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio tracks in English and French. Both tracks are very well produced and have been nicely converted to DVD for this release. The frequency response is wide and unexaggerated, creating a very natural sound audio field for the movie. Dialogues are well integrated without being drowned out by the music or the sound effects, and always understandable, despite the heavy Southern drawl. Marc Shaiman’s music score is also well presented with a big sound field that breathes and feels alive at any given time.
"Ghosts Of Mississippi" is a good movie that brings the problematic of racism and segregation that is prevailing especially in the American South very close to home without being melodramatic. It is sickening to know that people like Byron De La Beckwith are still walking the surface of the Earth on this very day, and that the 30 years that have passed in the movie don’t have changed really that much in the social attitudes. It is also saddening to know that very little will supposedly change in the 30 years to come, and that the roots of the racial hatred are so deep in the White society. While "Ghosts Of Mississippi" may not be the best movie on the subject matter, any film that scratches the surface and sets a memorial to a civil rights leader is ultimately a good movie, and one that deserves to be seen. It is so easy to forget all the wrongs that have been done to various cultures during the relentless White exploitation, and it is through compelling movies like this one that we are reminded of these evils, hopefully teaching us to finally live in peace with each other. Warner Home Video’s splendid presentation of "Ghosts Of Mississippi" is a great opportunity to pay tribute to one of the forgotten civil rights leaders who gave their lives in their fight for a better world.