You've probably never experienced Cuba through the eyes of an exiled writer who just happens to be homosexual, or Cuba at all for that matter, but see Before Night Falls and you might catch a glimpse of what it is like.
Javier Bardem delivers a commanding performance as Reinaldo Arenas, the award-winning writer who was exiled from his home country, not just for being gay but for "having the mind of a rebel." The movie starts out in the late 1950's and continues into the 1980's, where Arenas dies, and Bardem gets better with every passing moment.
The movie does not. There are so many movies that have great performances, and might even have good scripts, but are about as entertaining as watching a hardened eraser break paper (I don't know why I thought of that). I have to say that Bardem's talent is wasted here, even though he did receive a Best Actor nomination, because this movie is so drab and long it becomes annoying to watch him.
What really hurts everything is that the movie shown in the previews (which is repeated time and time again at the Blockbuster where I work) is not the movie you actually get to see. The previews say that Before Night Falls is a movie about the transitional period between pre-Castro Cuba and Castro Cuba, and that's what I was looking for. I find stuff like that very interesting. I really do not find movies about writers that I have never heard very interesting, even if he does experience a lot. The prison scene should have been powerful but by that point I was so bored by everything else that was (or was not) going on that I really didn't care. I have nothing against homosexuality, and I really didn't mind seeing all of the homosexual stuff that is in Before Night Falls, except that you can't use homosexual scenes as a basis for the whole movie. It seems as though the movie is more interested in telling us that Bardem is gay than in telling us about his experiences. I don't really care if he's gay or not; I want to see some development of the story.
Oh, is every damn person in Cuba gay? It seems like every man that Bardem meets turns out to be gay, no matter whether he is at a party, walking along the beach, or talking to a prison guard. It was really annoying.
The other thing that really hurts Before Night Falls is that it is hard to keep track of the characters. This might sound like I'm some old senile hag (I'm not, not by 50 or 60 years), but all the damn actors look the same. One guy helps Bardem out, another betrays him, and I can't tell whether this was the same guy who showed up earlier, or what. I can't even recall any of their names.
As for Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, neither have standout roles. Penn has about two minutes of screen time, and Depp has five or so.
Before Night Falls is not a bad movie; it has a good script, good acting, good direction, and probably depicts the life of Arenas pretty well, but when I want a movie that seemingly is about the Cuban revolution, I want to see a movie about the Cuban revolution, or at least a movie that doesn't get tediously boring after the forty-five minute mark.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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