Before Night Falls

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 13 Minutes

Reviewer: Jones
Grade: A-

“Before Night Falls” is the story of a man who overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds only to find the life he has found may not have been worth the effort it took to get there.

Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) was born in Cuba in 1943 to a single mother and a fatherless existence. The home of his youth was overrun with women and a single man, who served only to uproot Reinaldo’s life when it was discovered that the young boy had a gift for the written word, by moving them all far away and choosing to no longer to speak to any of them. As he grew older Reinaldo began to experiment in finding his place in life, whether it be his sexuality (homosexual), or his occupation (writer). Before long he gains a job at the National Library and takes honorable mention in a writing contest.

Just when everything looks to be going well for Reinaldo, Castro’s regime takes power and puts measures into place designed to snuff out the undesirable elements of society, as seen through their eyes. This meant that homosexuals, writers of propaganda, the mentally retarded, and anyone else who didn’t fall into line with Castro’s ideology were to be sent to concentration camps to be sequestered from society. This would make for a life of exile for the talented young Cuban novelist, both because of his sexual persuasion and his manipulation of the written word.

The journey of Reinaldo Arenas is a difficult and powerful film to watch for reasons of subject matter and presentation. The subject matter (particularly the homosexual aspects of Reinaldo’s life) is dealt with in such an unflinching manner that it is hard not to feel uncomfortable at first. For many of us, it is a world we have not seen and quite likely would never see if it were not for films like this.

To add to the discomfort is the manner in which the film is photographed. It has the feel of a documentary, as it looks at the periods of Reinaldo’s life in the form of chapters. There is a rugged feel to the presentation that makes the world come alive and makes the drama being witnessed on the screen all the more impactful.

The true force that guides this film is the powerhouse performance by Javier Bardem in the role of Reinaldo Arenas. To say that the man is mesmerizing is to make a great understatement. He masters a complex role and makes it his own. I had never known of Reinaldo Arenas before watching this film, but after spending two hours with Javier Bardem’s interpretation of his life, I feel as if I have known the man for many years. Definitely one of the most powerful performances I have seen in recent years and most assuredly among the best performances of 2000 by a male lead.

As I have outlined above, “Before Night Falls” is not an easy film to watch, but it has its rewards to offer. Julian Schnabel’s steady direction, meaningful cameo appearances by Johnny Depp (Not one, but two roles!), Sean Penn (hard to spot), and Michael "Guy of Gisborne" Wincott, and last but not least, Javier Bardem’s painstakingly haunting performance as Reinaldo Arenas are all worthy reasons to make this film part of your viewing diet if you can stomach it.