The Constant Gardener (2005) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for language, violent images, nudity, and some sexuality
Running Time: 129 min.
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Donald Sumpter, Pete Postlethwaite, Hubert Kounde, Archie Panabi, Daniele Harford, Gerard McSorley, Nick Reding, Donald Apiyo
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenplay: Jeffrey Caine (based on the novel by John Le Carre)
Review published January 22, 2006
Director Fernando Meirelles follows up his highly acclaimed film, City of God, with another impressive piece in The Constant Gardener, a loose but very well respected adaptation of John Le Carre's lengthy and complex novel of the same name. Sumptuously filmed, with a great sense of visual style, Meirelles captivates with subtle touches that makes what could have been a boring talking heads potboiler into a touching love story, an exciting mystery, and a bleak commentary on the growing reality of the potential for corporations to expend human lives in the name of the almighty dollar.
Ralph Fiennes (Maid in Manhattan, Red Dragon) plays a British diplomat named Justin Quayle, who meets and marries a very politically-minded woman named Tessa (Weisz, Constantine), who accompanies him on his latest job in Kenya. Tessa ends up dead -- killed, although the culprit isn't known. Perhaps it is thieves or perhaps an assassination, but Justin aims to find out, which he does by continuing the investigation that Tessa had kept him in the dark about. There's something nefarious going on in Kenya, where poor folk are being systematically tested using a new drug called Dypraxa, which would mean untold millions to the pharmaceutical company that produces it, although it comes at the cost of many lives. As Justin digs further, he starts receiving threats on his own life, and it seems that even the countrymen that had been protecting him have a personal interest in making sure that he isn't successful in his mission to unlock the mystery surrounding the deaths of many Kenyans, as well as his wife's.
Solid performances abound, with a nicely tender but resolved role for Fiennes, while Weisz in particular shines in one of her best in her career. The supporting cast is also solid, while the characterizations are well-rounded to the point where there are no clear villains -- just duplicitous motives and ulterior schemes. Although the actual events of the story are fictitious, as adapted by Jeffrey Caine (GoldenEye, Inside I'm Dancing), the world of Kenya and its politics is every bit as vivid in detail as if this were based on a true story through first-hand accounts. This is a film that works on many levels, from the personal to the global, and in all of them, it is erudite, articulate, and quite often, downright unnerving in its themes.
It's a thriller more for the mind than to get your heart pumping, so don't expect a nail-biter here. The Constant Gardener is thoughtful, reflective, and passionate, albeit coldly so, movie about two people, a community, a nation, a continent, and an entire world, offering more items of interest than just the mystery at hand. Although Meirelles film detaches the viewer from actually feeling the gravity and emotion of each situation, this also makes for a more realistic, less manipulative feel, which some viewers may mistake for being indifferent, which this most certainly is not. While it is a political film, it never descends into demagoguery, leading us to find the answers without actually beating us over the head with them in the name of edutainment. Whether you see this as a story of love, duty, courage, or intrigue, it works on many levels, One of 2005's best.
©2006 Vince Leo