Gardens of the Night (2008) Poster

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A little masterpiece
nick rostov27 November 2008
Relentlessly raw, authentic and sad: I hope that description doesn't drive you away because it is also brilliantly directed and intensely human, and there is a loving relationship at the center that lights it all up like the sun. A scene in an arcade where the two main characters are doing Dance Dance Revolution together had me weeping. Catch this one, however you can.

IMDb says I have to add more lines so I'll say that the casting is as good as casting gets -- one character after another is blazingly real. And the cameo by Malkovich does not feel like a gimmick: he's a genius, and therefore always welcome.
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kosmasp15 July 2008
This movie is really tough and some people have or had problems with it's themes (check the synopsis if you have no problem with a bit of a spoiler), but I love it for being so bold and not shying away from taking any punches.

The performances are central to this movie and although they are mostly dark (you haven't seen Tom Arnold like this before) and you don't really fee like they are likable, you get that the circumstances made them the way they are. Either you take them as they are and the decisions they make or you won't like it at all. A feel good movie this ain't ...
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Tom, Kevin, Gillian, Jeremy, and John Make a Horror Film
filmchaser12 February 2013
I can't believe I got through this film, first of all, because that little blond angel of an actress that played little Leslie made the evil of the subject matter all the more horrific. Tom Arnold was brilliant, and had me feeling sorry for his character. Kevin Zegers was convincing as Tom's "turned" accomplice, dark and damaged. Jeremy Sisto was so creepy I cannot forget his sleazy grin as he offered a "discount" to Tom.

Gillian's eyes said it all. What a great actress this girl is. Such dead eyes. And John Malkovich as a good guy...just enough to keep me off balance.

All the actors in this film gave stunning performances about a very distasteful subject: broad daylight abductions of children, the business of child pornography, and the murdering of innocent souls.

There was never going to be a happy ending to this movie, and it took courage to make this film knowing that nobody is going to watch it twice, unless they're perverted; or recommend it to their friends. However, everyone needs to recommend it to anyone they know who has children. Because evil is cunning.

I will never be the same.
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Growing up abducted, brainwashed, sold & scared
knoxiii20 November 2014
This movie was an excellent portrayal of what I suspect is a realistic account of a girl & boy growing up way too fast. What happens to the children on milk cartons? This movie endeavors to show what too often can & does. I can hardly think of a more serious topic, but I want to reassure viewers that the movie is filmed in a way that reveals the horrible situations with integrity & nothing graphic is shown. Your only repulsion should come from an expanded understanding of what can happen to children and the twisted ways their minds are manipulated to deal with the perverse dilemmas they are forced to reconcile in their young minds.

The movie deals with so many issues in under two hours, which is impressive. Abduction, underage sex trafficking, methods of sex traffickers, runaways, homeless youth, the world-view & hardened emotions that manifest in dealing in this world, & the stories of extremely difficult survival for kids with no home. Again, it is amazing the director accomplished all of this subject matter without exploiting the actors themselves. While the ideas are revolting, your heart responds with a greater love & understanding of the victims of this ugly subculture of humanity.

Jillian Jacobs is astounding in a hardened but not too hard role as a teen who has been pushed beyond the limits of morality & maintains a softness & concern for others, rejecting the behaviors of abuse & subjugation she has been exposed to. Sadly, this is not common in the family life cycle. Normally, we learn from what we see and experience & then duplicate that in our own lives, because how would we know otherwise?

As this movie involved the journey of a boy & a girl through hell on earth, it should come as no surprise to hear it was a gripping thriller that demanded to be watched to completion. I enjoyed it because it informed my imagination & broadened my understanding of the causes & effects of many of our culture's most despicable acts & brought to life in as tasteful way as I could imagine, how these events are processed by children. Any movie that expands our collective consciousness achieves one of the cinema's primary objectives & deserves our heartfelt appreciation.

I rate this a 7/10 stars because of all of the above & the way Jillian Jacobs toes the line in her portrayal of a thoroughly sympathetic character throughout. This was not an easy role. If you enjoy thrillers & dramas & wouldn't mind becoming more informed about these issues, this is a must-see movie.

Knox D. Alford, III
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A beautiful, high quality film and an important wake-up call...
PeachHamBeach3 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film is so many things, but above all a labor of love. It's about a subject that is upsetting, disturbing, horrifying, and really happening all over our world. Evil is real and evil does not care who it hurts or destroys. Child sexual abuse and exploitation are horrible, destructive crimes that needs to be addressed. I thank Damian Harris for this film, a beautiful portrait of the children who are being destroyed by this evil, and a wake-up call for anyone who cares to open their ears. It leaves you wishing you knew how to stop the evil and help the children. It left me very upset and angry and saddened.

Aesthetically, it is superbly filmed, beautifully acted, directed, and written. It has all the earmarks of any favorite to have made it to Oscar night, but it got the short shrift somehow. Tom Arnold deserves an Oscar for his work as Alex. Unfortunately, pedophiles and rapists and pornographers do not wear black hoods and capes. They look like everyone, and this particular man, while we know him as the story's villain who sets the stage for evil and degradation, is very human. You see his pathetic side even as he drugs the children and films himself having sex with them. Evil isn't black and shadowy. Evil is a friendly face asking you to help find their dog.

I was also very moved and impressed by the performances of Kevin Zegers (mostly in deleted scenes on the DVD!!!) as Alex's cohort, very possibly an older victim of Alex's, and Ryan Simpkins and Jermaine Scooter Smith as Leslie and Donnie, the young children who are exploited. To escape their nightmarish world of being raped by strangers in front of a camera, making videos that will surely be passed around in the perverts' underworld, the two children begin reading from Rudyard Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK, and creating a world that they don't have to share with anyone.

But unlike many of the critiques I have read, I was even MORE moved by the performances of Evan Ross and Gillian Jacobs as the same children years later. Their damage is evident without being melodramatic. Their bond, part romantic, part familial, is touching without resorting to sentiment. Jacobs' performance has been criticized, and her appearance described as "too pretty" to be a street person. However, if you pay attention to her eyes, in some scenes sad and soft, in others, hard-edged and "old", you see the whole horrible story. Part I of the story is about the damage being inflicted, and that's important, but Part II is important as well, as it is about what these children become after someone has used them and tossed them away like rubbish.

I believe the most important segment of the film is when the scum-bag pimp asks Leslie to help him get his hands on a 12 year old girl staying in a children's' shelter. Has the evil destroyed Leslie so totally that she will do the very same evil deeds as the men who victimized her? Also in the cast are John Malkovich as a strict but caring counselor in the shelter, Jeremy Sisto as a pornographer/pimp who supplies children to affluent pedophiles, Kyle Gallner as a male prostitute, and Harold Perrineau as one of those kind of pedophiles you've heard arguing that "sex with children is natural, wholesome, good..." Anything to avoid admitting their sick, destructive perversion.

There comes a time when Leslie is told that her parents did not give her away, that they have been searching for her for years. The ending is sad and leaves you almost in tears. Her original family is no longer her "family". They are simply strangers. It's such a heartbreak to realize that she cannot ever feel at home with them ever again, that her life with them has been altered forever.

Her one true friend, Donnie, is out there somewhere, the only one she will ever feel "family" about. I was hoping that in the end, we'd see them reunited, but who knows what happened to either of them.

This is definitely not a feel good movie, but it is a very beautiful story and film. You may not be able to watch it more than once, but anyone who has a child ought to at least do so.
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Every Parent Should Watch This Movie
dcfemella1 April 2009
"Gardens of the Night" is about two children, Leslie and Donnie, kidnapped by two men and their lives together. It's directed by newcomer Damian Harris who based his story on the kids, counselors, police officers, and pimps that he met during his two years of research. His years of perfecting the story was seen in how well made this movie was. As a parent, I felt the pain of what would happen if my child was taken and having to endure the horrors that these children did for over nine years. After they get too old, they are dumped by their captors and left to fend for themselves.

The actors did an amazing job bringing this script to life. The two children, Rayn Simpkins and Jermaine Scooter Smith, who play the young Leslie and Donnie really showed the pain that children who have dealt with this probably felt. I was impressed on how well they did for being so young. I was glad that they didn't get too graphic on the parts when the children had to do deal with pedophiles because I probably would have nightmares for awhile thinking about how this really happens every day. The director was able to make his point across without showing too much. Some other directors would have gone for the shock factor, so I am glad that he was smart enough to realize that he would have lost his audience doing that.

The cinematography was great because it didn't look like it was made in a fancy studio. It gave the feel like you were actually there with them throughout the entire ordeal. I also like how they show how this is usually a vicious cycle that occurs and that it usually doesn't just end. You expect a big, happy ending where everything is perfect at the end, and I am glad that he kept it realistic. Every parent should watch this. Even if you aren't a parent, you probably should. It will make you think twice about what to do if you see a sad child, who doesn't seem like he/she belongs with that adult, looking at you with helpless eyes.
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Loud Bell Warnings about Child Abduction!
lasting126 April 2015
My question was always how beautiful, SMART, promising children get abducted in the first place and erased from their family's dynamics. This movie is every parents nightmare and to see how Tom Arnold (Alex) and his partner (Frank), played by Kevin Zegers go through the cunning, gut wrenching process of surreptitiously convincing an 8 yr.old gorgeous child, that he worked for the father and she needed to get into the car and talk about his father's 'big troubles'. Tom Arnold played this monster abductor with such skill, and at first with gentle convincing persuasion that they had been abandoned by their families because of their FAMILIES' bleak circumstances. "Never talk to Strangers" goes above and beyond, because they both are so eloquent and seamless in their successful display of believability. I presume that walking alone back and forth from school is a thing of the past! This is a tough watch, so get your gut strong and the message is clear. This is all done for money marketing these children into porno, rape and abuse. Without giving the ending away it is certainly a movie that educates, and depicts a well researched account by the writer Damian Harris. For two years he worked among the pimps, shelters, child porno industry to identify this horror and how it manifests within these young adults as they grow to know the truth.
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Very Dark & Disturbing
sddavis6327 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is a good movie. In fact, it's an exceptionally well done movie that tackles an impossibly difficult and even horrific subject and that, as a result, makes it often a very difficult movie to watch. It's not a sob-story happy ending kind of movie, either, so by the time it comes to an end you don't really feel at all uplifted. In fact, you feel kind of worn down, upset - even angry.

The subject of the movie is child sexual exploitation. A darker, seedier and more disturbing storyline probably doesn't exist. It revolves around Leslie (played by Ryan Simpkins as a young child and Gillian Jacobs as a teen.) Leslie is kidnapped at the age of 8 and essentially forced into a life of child prostitution. Thankfully, nothing graphic is shown (obviously nothing sexual, and no physical abuse of any kind, really), but just knowing the situation makes your heart bleed for this girl and at times ties your stomach in knots.

The kidnapper is played by Tom Arnold. The portrayal of a sick man luring his victim into his clutches and gradually making her more and more dependent on him to the point at which he can take her out in public and she won't try to escape or tell anyone what's going on is truly disturbing. There's no real closure with Arnold's character of Alex, either. Somehow Leslie and her friend Donnie (who was held captive as well) are just all of a sudden on their own. There's no mention of how they got away, or of what happened to Alex.

One piece of advice: this seems to me to be a pretty accurate depiction (a psychological one mostly) of children being kidnapped and then sexually exploited. It's filmed mostly from Leslie's point of view, so it is a hard movie, and if you watch a tough movie expecting (and even needing) everything to work out in the end and everybody to live happily ever after then don't watch this. It's not a fairy tale. Not in any way, shape or form. It's dark and disturbing from the first to the last moment. But if you can get through that, it's also a very powerful and well made movie. (8/10)
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As a father, who obviously thinks his daughter is the sweetest, most beautiful, and innocent creature on this planet, I struggled to watch this
brian-parone20 August 2017
I'm always looking for extreme and disturbing films. Disturbing film aficionados will know about 'A Serbian Film', 'Salo', 'Martyrs', 'Nekromantik', and the rest. Nothing has ever made me cringes much, or even ever stop watching a film....until this film. I didn't even think this was going to be a disturbing film. I knew is was a risqué topic but didn't think it would be the most disturbing film I've ever seen. I had to turn if off for a little bit. Just imaging my little girl in that situation broke my heart. I couldn't stop imaging it happening to my little girl and I felt so uneasy I had to turn it off twice and try to watch something else. So I turned it on and left it on. My objective is to install an appropriate level of fear in myself and think about what I can do to avoid this with my daughter and other children.

No film has ever stuck with me like this one. No film has ever given me such anxiety. No film has ever made me so uncomfortable and shocked at human behavior. I understand violence but, child exploitation is not something I understand at all. I am moved. I gave this film an 8. Not a 10 because I prefer films that make me feel good. Not a 1 because this is a hard subject done right and that doesn't take the topic over the line (i.e. no child nudity/sexual acts). It seriously does go to the edge though. Very wall thought out and directed. Was a tight rope to walk for the director.
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Very painful and real. Great movie.
rebeccax522 June 2017
I'd never heard of the film and by the end was in tears. The lead character Leslie is brilliantly acted. Don't expect feel good. The film should be seen by all caring people. Child abduction is evil. Knowing that intellectually is one thing but seeing the reality of it is necessary for people to put an end to it.

The film is a heart breaker
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Children's plight and nightmare.
michaelRokeefe4 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Damian Harris directs/writes this sad and eye opening drama. At the age of eight, Leslie Whitehead(Ryan Simpkins)is kidnapped by a scheming man named Alex(Tom Arnold)and his young partner Frank(Kevin Zegers). Alex will tell the girl that her parents no longer want her and can have a better life without her. She and another victim named Donnie(Jermaine Scooter Smith)are forced into child prostitution and pornography. The two will try to cope by pretending they are in an imaginary world based on The Jungle Book. After about nine years of horror the two are dumped on the streets. Now Leslie(Gillian Jacobs)and Donnie(Evan Ross) have only each other to depend on. They will survive the streets the best they know how...prostitution. Thanks to a shelter counselor(John Malkovich), Leslie tries to return to her parents. But will this be a success? The teen will wonder if Donnie just disappeared or met mishap. Haunting, sad and disgraceful. The Harris bases GARDEN of the NIGHT on two years of personal research. Arnold is outstanding in the role. Also in the cast: Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Sisto and Landall Goolsby.
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An actual injury to the soul.
scrapmetal716 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
There are a few film efforts I've seen that hurt me so badly that they diminished my ability to feel peace of mind or happiness. Oz season 4, Megan is Missing, The Killing Gene, and this movie. This movie hurt me more than any of those. Years after seeing it, I still have nightmares about it.

I can not complain about anything in this movie on a cinematic level. It is very well filmed and directed. It is very well acted. The story is mercilessly realistic and honest. It is a noble, worthwhile effort to have made this film.

The conundrum is that there is not one person I can think of whom I would put through the pain of watching this. Anyone who could watch this movie and not be injured by it is just closed off to its realism.

The life that is evoked by this film is that of people who have had everything taken away from them. That things like this actually happen is too much to bear.
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hard to watch
farron3416 February 2013
I've seen a lot of movies, and this one is one of the few that is hard to watch. Not because it's necessarily bad on a cinematic level; the acting is great, and the directing and camera work are just fine. It's hard to watch because of the brutal reality (read: evil) that exists in our world. I feel the first hour of the film could have told in at least half the time – as there are certain things you just don't want to see, and/or turn a blind eye to and pretend they don't exist or happen. However, by leaving it that long, it forces the viewer to enter their world – it's as if they are holding your eyes open for you and you have no other choice (clockwork orange style).

I think it's a powerful story, and told well, as it explores most avenues and consequences associated with that lifestyle. The story is sad, heartbreaking, and repulsive, yet almost beautiful with undertones of love, forgiveness, and what it means to be 'family'.
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Very good and disturbing!
RodrigAndrisan7 April 2018
A deep and very sad movie. Ryan Simpkins is exceptional in her role as a kidnapped girl. Gillian Jacobs is equally good at playing the same character, a few years older. Very good Tom Arnold, in the role of the kidnapper "with soul". John Malkovich, one of my favorite actors, makes from a small role, as he usually do, a big role. A particularly exciting film, excellently performed by all actors. Impeccable directed by Damian Harris.
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One of the most disturbing films I've ever seen.
DeeNine-230 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
You will not be redeemed. You will not find catharsis. You may very well feel deeply depressed at the depravity of some human beings.

We can begin with Alex (Tom Arnold) who "loves" little Leslie (Ryan Simpkins) so deeply and tenderly that he deprives her of her childhood to satisfy his lust. And then there's his bud Frank (Kevin Zegers) who helps Alex drug the children.

Some years pass. Leslie (Gillian Jacobs) is now 17. She is living in San Diego sleeping under a life guard station or under the freeway with Donnie (as a child played by Jermaine 'Scooter' Smith and then by Evan Ross) the other child abducted by Alex and Frank. The viewer can guess that Leslie and Donnie were just dumped somewhere when Alex and Frank got tired of them. (And we can guess that Alex and Frank found other children to enslave and molest.) Leslie smokes, does drugs, prostitutes herself, and hangs out with lowlifes on the streets. One lowlife (I forget his name) wants Leslie to entice a 12-year-old girl into prostitution. She is told that he will give her to only the "best people" including a judge. Apparently he has a ring of enslaved girls that he shops around to the best people.

At this point the viewer is understandably waiting for Leslie and Donnie to find themselves, to break free of the hopeless life on the street. Enter Michael at the homeless shelter (John Malkovich in what is little more than a cameo). He discovers an old flyer with little Leslie's photo and the plea from her loving and distraught parents for the return of their missing daughter. Prior to seeing this Leslie believed from years of being brainwashed by Alex that her parents didn't love her and were glad to be rid of her. Michael says, "It's time for you to go home, Leslie."

And so Leslie does. And what happens is in some ways the most disturbing part of the movie.

The cast is outstanding. I was particularly impressed with Ryan Simpkins, Gilliam Jacobs and Evan Ross. Damian Harris, who wrote and directed, gives us a view of humanity that is unrelentingly debased. There is no doubt about his skill and dark vision. I just hope that next time out he does something positive.

--Dennis Littrell, author of the movie review book, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge, or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote"
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Pretty good, realistic film.
mrmgarnham27 June 2021
Cautionary tale of how CSA can lead into prostitution. Cameos from Evan Wood and John Malkovich.

Not overly graphic but should have a warning. Decent plot and cast.
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Who's exploiting who?
hughman5521 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This subject matter deserves a much better script, and final result, than this movie serves up. The script is full of holes because it was never conceived as a story, but rather a string of nightmare scenarios loosely knitted together. The gaps and loose ends in the story line are numerous. The scene where the kidnap victim is told that her parents are not dead, and have been looking for her since she was taken, is just bizarre. It is written as a cathartic therapy moment with the head of the shelter for runaways handing her a "missing poster" from when she was eight. In the real world, if the head of a shelter for runaways found out that he had, under his roof, a solved kidnapping, what would have followed would have been an immediate call to the police. It's a law enforcement issue not a 12 minute segment for Oprah. Everything that follows from there to the end is so short shrift that I can only conclude that the first 90 minutes was for pure gratuitous exploitation. Funny, that's what this movie is supposed to be condemning. In the end it seems to have joined in.
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An Incredibly Powerful Film
Cinnyaste12 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
What a ride.

"Gardens of the Night" is for those courageous who enjoy a gut-wrenching, challenging film.

This will cut close to the bone for those with intimate knowledge of childhood sexual abuse; buttons pushed for others. The depiction of an eight year old girl's abduction and subsequent brainwashing by two pedophiles is extremely visceral. The heart breaks

"Jeeeeezzzzuuuus," kept coming to my lips. Particularly in the first forty minutes or so.

Structurally, the film flashes forward at the perfect time. (The emotionally graphic horrors were becoming suffocating.) At 16, the teenage girl and her abduction-mate brother have been thrown out like empty Bics. The usual follows: prostitution, drugs, life on the street with other rootless weeds in the awful backwash of abuse.

Took in a litter of feral kittens once. Cleaned and fed them, treated their fleas. They booked the first chance they got.

During her journey, a Social Worker engineers a reunion between the girl and her parents. A happy ending seems evident. I thought, well, there are happy endings in some of these cases. Okay, a little Movie of the Week-ish, but still a powerful film.

However, courageous film-making stretches to tell truths that risk audience displeasure.

The girl finds her parents have two young children conceived after the abduction. They've been told older sister "went to Heaven."

It no longer makes sense. She has no home, books the first chance she gets. Thus the horror keeps giving and giving. Beyond repair, her damaged soul flees to the streets in search of the brother.

Tech credits are top-notch: cinematography, editing.

Tom Arnold's pedophile (it seems odd to say) was terrific, quietly creepy. Ryan Simpkin's young Leslie is amazing (that sweet face etches into the psyche); Gillian Jacobs' teen Leslie outstanding.

Is there a glimmer of hope? A stray ray of sunshine somewhere? Can't say. All we're told is what's left in Leslie - basic survival and the desire for someone to watch her back.

The rest is up to us. Sexual abuse is the most viscous of circles. "Garden's of the Night" has the cojones to grab you by the collar and loudly say, "This is what it looks like, society. Stop it! Look at what you are doing."

Absolutely riveting, uncompromising. A look in the mirror.
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It was so one of hardest movies to watch...
mmyilmazyurt23 November 2021
Especially, the first hour of the movie is just so hard to watch. It is so depressing, haunting.

Ryan Simpkins was one of the best child actors I've seen and learning about the inspiration behind Tom Arnold's performance is heartbreaking.

My only complaint is that second half was lacking the nuance of first half and I feel like the kids traumas' weren't processed enough apart from Donnie beating himself (in a feeling of letting Leslie down) and Leslie breaking down. In which, the latter was one of the best moments of Gillian Jacobs' career in such an early stage.

Knowing her from many other projects and, following many interviews of her she mentions this moment often and remembers it as one of the most special collaborations she ever did thanks to John Malkovich and his generosity. Apparently, she wasn't in the necessary emotional state before the scene and John Malkovich made an improv over what happened to her character throughout the years to bring her to that state.
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Amazing movie, minor spoilers
sammywisamoose19 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is a must see for people who want to better understand the horrors of human trafficking that's happening right under our noses. It's hauntingly beautiful, the acting is done extremely well. The child actors gave an amazing job despite their young age, when most children don't understand that trafficking has a much darker meaning then driving a car. It's not for people who have to have a happy ending, but the realistic plot is what I think makes it such a good film. Where some directors would go for the wow factor and show the horrible things done to the victims, especially minors, this director did not. He displayed it in a way where you understand what's happening enough to leave it up to the imagination, which in my opinion makes it even more haunting. The most amazing part of the movie is how despite the darkness of the plot happiness still shines through. The part where the two leads are dancing together in a moment of freedom and happiness is one of the most heartwarming scenes I have ever seen. The relationship between the two leads as a whole is amazing. One of my all time favorite movies, 10/10!!
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One of the best portrayals on the subject.
best_value_vacs9 March 2013
Gardens Of The Night was a very well done film in my opinion. It pulls the viewer in right from the beginning. Excellent acting, scripting, and directing. The New Yorker review says you need recover time after seeing this film. I believe it because I am finding it very difficult to write this review. Forget the reviews, just watch it because it is a must see like it or not! Gardens Of The Night was a very well done film in my opinion. It pulls the viewer in right from the beginning. Excellent acting, scripting, and directing. The New Yorker review says you need recover time after seeing this film. I believe it because I am finding it very difficult to write this review. Forget the reviews, just watch it because it is a must see like it or not!
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Geeky Randy's summary
Geeky Randy1 July 2012
Drama about San Diego streetwalkers Jacobs and Ross and how they came to be through years of sexual abuse. Brave, disturbing and insightful, yet strangely ceases to be thought-provoking—it pretty much is what it is. Tom Arnold is standout in possibly the best role of his career, not to mention Perrineau pulling the audience into Hell with just one unforgettably disturbing scene. Suffers from the FULL METAL JACKET-effect, where the first act easily tops the second act—and something is askew when the child actors (Simpkins and Smith) are easily stronger than the adult actors playing the same characters (Jacobs and Ross). The romantic undertones between the two leads are interesting, but nonetheless questionable as it distracts and interrupts more important conflicts at hand.

**½ (out of four)
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Everything you hoped and more.....
todmbold24 April 2014
....unfortunately. It made me viscerally ill to watch. The message, as told, was poignant to the point of discomfort in the watcher. Yet, it's still a must see movie.

Everything begins with a confusing opening scene of a young woman in an obviously less than ideal situation contemplating. Her life, her options, her choices? We don't know. The reason becomes clear as we are driven to accept the worst through the following scene of the innocuous morning routine of an elementary aged schoolgirl that quickly grows recognizable for the darkness it portends.

Astoundingly well written, and equally well portrayed, "Gardens" doesn't simply rely on the shocking subject matter of child abduction and exploitation to grip it's audience. The play of absolutes being blurred (with accompanying emotional turmoil) while never losing sight of the abomination of child sexual exploitation are what truly captivated this viewer.

Kudos to all involved with "Gardens". It's rare a when a movie can treat it's subject matter so honestly while retaining cinematic quality. Don't miss this movie, but, get ready for a gut wrenching story that will leave it's mark on your thoughts for years to come.
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"Gardens of the Night" (2008) is a generally well made film, but it's damned hard to review.
ericrnolan28 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
We can't … enjoy the movie, because it isn't meant to entertain. It's a detailed docudrama that shows the abduction and forced prostitution of an eight-year-old girl, then the permanent destruction of her life in her teen years.

It's gut-wrenching. The first half of the movie plays almost like a twisted procedural in which a child pornographer and slaver (brilliantly and unexpectedly portrayed by Tom Arnold) tricks and kidnaps young Leslie (Ryan Simpkins).

We're shown the nuts and bolts of everything – starting with how Arnold's character earns her trust ("Can you help me find my dog?", "I'm a friend of your father's.") And Arnold is so convincing in the role, it's easy to see how lines like this can fool a child. We see how she's drugged, imprisoned, and persuaded that her parents don't want her anymore, then how she's coaxed and reassured into prostitution to pedophiles. There were a few times when I wanted to shout at the screen – such as when Arnold's character actually coaches the prepubescent girl about what customers expect. Then we're even shown how children are marketed and sold – with catalogs and photos and polite, secret business meetings. Jeremy Sisto and Harold Perrineau show up in effective supporting roles that will turn your stomach.

Then – midway through the film, we fast-forward to Leslie's life as a teenager, where she is now somehow free of Arnold and his even more evil partner (well played by Kevin Zegers, who I remember best as the sweetnatured, clean-cut kid in Zack Snyder's 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake).

Again – it's hard to know whether to recommend this movie. To call it sad would be an understatement. It IS a pretty well made film – the acting is great all around, and especially from Arnold. And says that that writer/director Damian Harris developed it after years of research among child victims.

It has some problems, though. For a drama about a victim, its central character just isn't well rendered or extremely likable. It's awkwardly structured. Unless I'm mistaken, we never find out how Leslie escapes her captors.

The movie is also poorly paced, I think … it drags a bit around the middle and the anticlimactic ending feels like a postscript. Finally, it seems to make little use of John Malkovich's genius in a supporting role. (That guy is goddam mesmerizing – like Anthony Hopkins, he could read names out of a telephone book and make it interesting.)

Quite honestly, if this movie is as accurate as it claims (and there's no reason to think it wouldn't be), it would make a great educational tool. No child should watch it, but it's so explicit and procedural in nature that it seems like a great resource for training police officers or parents.

If you watch this, I strongly recommend watching "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" or "Old School" afterward – y'know … just so you don't kill yourself.
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Importance of preventative education
Rjones71413 October 2008
The subject of abduction & molestation is a hard truth. Attention is the key to prevention and education is the key. Support the AmberWatch Foundation whose mission it to provide education and tools to parents and children on how to stay safe from abduction and molestation. Movies like this help drive home the importance of this mission. Applaud the film makers and actors in this film! The performances are so real, this is what happens. Seeing the affect on the victims is compelling and true - if only the victims had known how to avoid abduction this would not have happened. It shows how many lives are touched and changed forever by one single act. I encourage everyone to see this movie and take advantage of any preventative tool you can get to safeguard your loved ones from a similar fate.
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