review for Ghosts of Mississippi on AllMovie

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
by Derek Armstrong review

The 1963 murder of Medgar Evers, already an historically important topic, became that much more fascinating when his murderer was improbably brought to justice more than 30 years later. And with such stranger-than-fiction details -- the attorney who reopened the case found the murder weapon among the personal effects of his father-in-law, the racist judge who presided over the original trial -- the story practically begged to be filmed. But Ghosts of Mississippi is not much more than an average courtroom drama/examination of race relations in the South. Director Rob Reiner tries admirably, but the action is mostly flat, the performances wooden. The one notable exception is James Woods, who plays the white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith with contemptuous flare, earning an Oscar nod for the role. Still, the true details of the story provide him little opportunity to strut his stuff, giving much more screen time to rote performances by Alec Baldwin as Bobby DeLaughter and Whoopi Goldberg as Evers's tireless widow. (And for all the terrific makeup applied to Woods to make him 30 years older, there's little effort to age Goldberg even a day). The film's best moments are when it contemplates the supreme difficulty of locating evidence or witnesses from a case that's both ancient and controversial, tried in a corrupt district known for burying objectionable documents. But Ghosts simply never generates much excitement, and that can't be blamed solely on the fact that the ending was already known to anyone who followed the news.