American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In June 1963, Medgar Evers, a Mississippi NAACP leader, was shotdead while standing in his driveway. A man named Byron De La Beckwith wascharged with the crime, but went free after two all-white juries reacheddeadlocks.
AlthoughDe La Beckwith was clearly the killer, at that time and place he was impossibleto convict; there is an obvious parallel with the O.J. Simpson verdict. Sopoisoned was the atmosphere in the Mississippi courtroom that at one point thestate's governor, Ross Barnett, actually walked up to De La Beckwith and shookhis hand.
Allof this is remembered with fidelity in Rob Reiner's “Ghosts of Mississippi,”which tells the story of how a white prosecutor named Bobby DeLaughterre-opened the case in 1989 and eventually won a conviction against De LaBeckwith, who had spent the intervening years all but openly boasting about thekilling. Justice was finally served, to the relief (and amazement) of MyrlieEvers, Medgar's widow, who sought all that time to bring her husband's killerback into a courtroom.
Thisis a moving story, but it's not a particularly compelling one in “Ghosts ofMississippi,” which plays like a TV docudrama and doesn't generate theemotional intensity of such similar films as “Mississippi Burning” and “A Time To Kill.” Maybe it focuses on the wrong characters. The movie is seen throughthe eyes of DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin), who does his job well, and at somehazard--but his story is more of a legal procedural than a human drama. Theemotional center of the film should probably be Myrlie Evers (Whoopi Goldberg),who cradled her bleeding husband as he died that night, her weeping andfrightened children around her. But the role is underwritten to such a degreethat Myrlie never really emerges except as an emblem, and Goldberg plays herlike the guest of honor at a testimonial banquet. There's no juice.