Gardens of the Night
I never would have believed
that I might ever type the following sentence:
Perhaps the bravest and
most nuanced film performance of the year was given by Tom Arnold.
Yes, that Tom Arnold.
Roseanne's ex. Bad comedian. The Best Darned Sports Show Ever.
Schwarzenegger sidekick in True Lies. Veteran of several failed
sitcoms. Star of the movie version of McHale's Navy.
Yet, Arnold scorches the
celluloid here with one of the most disturbing and intentionally
reprehensible characters to appear in a movie in recent memory. Arnold
deserves serious respect for having the nerve to play the man - and for
having the talent to make him, if not in any way likable, at least somewhat
You see, Arnold plays Alex,
an unrepentant pedophile who kidnaps a little girl and boy, tricking them to
believe their parents have abandoned them, eventually forcing them into
pornography and prostitution. He pulls this off with an accomplice, a
disaffected 20-year-old (Kevin Zegers of Transamerica), who appears -
though it is never explicitly said - to be an earlier victim of the man.
However, Alex is not the
typical movie monster. He actually appears - at least on the outside -
to be a kind and caring man. It shows how a small child might believe
that he truly is a nice man, not quite understanding the horrible lies and
mind games the man is responsible for. Arnold takes his image as a
good-natured galoot and turns it into something horribly sinister.
In a recent interview we
conducted with Arnold, he showed the depth of the challenge, as he divulged
that he took the role to help himself heal from his own childhood experience
as a sexual abuse victim.
Like I said, it was a
very brave performance.
Even though he is only in
about half of the film, Arnold's performance towers over everything that
goes on in Gardens of the Night. In fact, the second half of
the film - in which the little girl and boy have grown up to be homeless
prostitute junkies trying to survive alone on the streets (it is never
quite explained how or when they got away from Alex) - while arresting, is
honestly more predictable and less interesting than what preceded it.
Not to say bad - in fact
the performances by stars Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross are heartfelt and
engrossing - we've just seen teens struggling through drugs, crime and
prostitution before. The film has a sense of inevitability, and to its
favor filmmaker Damian Harris resisted the simplistic happy ending.
Also to the film's credit, almost all of the more sordid occurrences in the
story are handled with the utmost of restraint and tact.
Gardens of the Night
is a very dark film which starts out shattering and ends up merely
disturbing. It may be unfair to expect it to stay on the same high
level as the first half - and that also might just be impossible to do.
The film also does in the end leave you with some hope for these kids'
survival, though not in the ways you would expect.
This movie may be too small
and below-the-radar and its subject matter too controversial to capture much award-season notice, but if it does somehow break through,
then Tom Arnold definitely is deserving of serious consideration for a Best
Supporting Actor nominee.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 25, 2008.