Filmed in Georgia: Savannah is setting for ludicrous John Grisham plot in ‘Gingerbread Man’

Filmed in Georgia: Savannah is setting for ludicrous John Grisham plot in ‘Gingerbread Man’

Of films shot recently in Savannah, few may be aware of The Gingerbread Man, a John Grisham tale of passion, deceit and death featuring an impressive cast and director that should have led to a blockbuster movie – but didn’t.

The line-up was remarkable: Shakespearean Irish-British actor Kenneth Branagh in the lead, supported by Robert Duvall of “The Godfather” and “The Apostle,” Embeth Davidtz, American-born, South African-raised actress who rocketed to fame in “Schindler’s List” as the Helen Hirsch maid for the commandant of the concentration camp; Robert Downey Jr. of “Natural Born Killers” and pre-Marvel; Daryl Hannah, from “Splash” and “Wall Street,” and Tom Berenger, scar-faced and unforgettable killer in “Platoon.” Directing them all was Robert Altman, who created “Nashville” and “The Player.”

The plot is convoluted and requires close attention to catch the nuances that Grisham is known for. Think back to “The Firm,” his book-to-film that focused on the success of an eminent Memphis law firm whose wealth proved to be something less than honorable thanks to its secret representation of The Mob.

Actor Kenneth Branagh leaving the set after the morning filming of The Gingerbread Man at the Post office on Wright Square in Savannah.
(Photo: Savannah Morning News)

Davidz here is again a victim – or so it seems. Determined to get back at her odd-ball, deranged-seeming father, played by Duvall, she seduces successful Savannah attorney Kenneth Branagh and enlists his help to have dear old dad committed to an asylum. They succeed.

If you are confused by all this, you’re not alone. It gets more obtuse yet. Duvall escapes thanks to help from his red-neck/hippie cohorts. When Branagh receives a letter from Duvall threatening his children, he goes off the deep end and guns down Duvall for absconding with his children – a total fiction.

There are more twists and turns but suffice it to say – spoiler alert – that in the end Davidtz uses Branagh to eliminate her father and inherit his valuable property. When Branagh realizes her duplicity, he tests her with a chance to prove it. She does by trying to shoot him with a Vary flare pistol, but he has loaded it with a used shell. In the end, she is led off in cuffs.

For us Savannahans, who cares? The film is solely Savannah-based and makes great use of Factors Walk, River Street and bars like Huey’s, the Olde Pink House, Forsyth Park and other local sites, but note that Branagh’s elegant downtown offices are as fictitious as the script.

They were completely the creation of a set built locally. And rain – torrential at times – was often thanks to rain and wind machines.

Local celebrity attorney Sonny Seiler makes an all-too-brief appearance as an attorney, in a scene with Washington D. C. power broker Vernon Jordan who reportedly was dying for a part however brief in the John Grisham script.

The aphorism is “The sum is greater than the parts,” but here the sum is less, and demonstrates just how difficult it is to create a compelling film no matter how talented the creators. They all do well – particularly Hannah and Davidtz – but the custard just doesn’t jell. But it’s fun to spot the local settings and recall when you were last there.

“The Gingerbread Man” is not currently streaming, but can rented at your local library.

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