The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener

****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a dependably discreet British diplomat (and gardening enthusiast), normally content to represent without question the interests of his country and, more particularly, his boss Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy). Yet when his activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and an African man are found murdered in an isolated region of North Kenya, he cannot accept the official line that they were attacked by bandits, and so begins for the first time to ask probing questions, much to the surprise of Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston) and his other colleagues at Kenya's British High Commission.

Even before Tessa went on her final journey, Justin had suspected she was unfaithful and that their marriage was no Garden of Eden, but as his investigations quickly lead him to a twisted trail of blackmail, corruption, espionage, exploitation, corporate misconduct, political scandal and global conspiracy, he rediscovers what he really stands for and what made him fall in love with his wife in the first place.

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It is no easy task for a romantic film to be genuinely touching, or for a thriller to be engaging and gripping, yet The Constant Gardener, based on the novel by John Le Carre, manages both, while smuggling in under the guise of such palatable genres a serious political expose. If director Fernando Meirelles' debut feature, the extraordinary City Of God, brought the misery of Brazil's favelas to the notice of a mass audience through bravura storytelling and manic energy, then this, his second film, is destined to draw similar public attention to the corruption of the big pharmaceutical corporations and its horrifying dripdown effect on the lives, ignored and "expendable", of the poor and sick in Third World Africa.

Sugaring this pill are the compelling central performances of Fiennes, as the gardener of the title, a well-meaning quietist slowly converted, like the viewer, to activism by what he uncovers, and of Weisz, as his wife, a passionate firebrand seen almost entirely in flashback after being killed in the film's opening sequence. Add to this Meirelles' vibrant direction and a screenplay by Jeffrey Caine that is riddled with masterful ambiguities, and you have a deeply intelligent and profoundly moral examination of a world where the political and the personal cannot ever be kept apart.

Best of all is the film's ending. Eschewing the sort of denouement favored by lesser Hollywood fare, wherein a complex political problem is resolved by daft gun-toting heroics, The Constant Gardener settles upon a far more believable conclusion that manages all at once to be bleak, honest and moving. By giving the quiet dead of Africa an accusatory voice from beyond the grave, it is designed to point its bony finger at the audience's own blindness and complacency. For this film dramatises, more clearly than any other non-documentary feature that I can recall, how corporate and national interest in the West can easily translate into suffering and death in the Third World, and how, by willfully ignoring this and allowing it to continue, we are playing our part in cold-blooded murder.

It is not a call to arms so much as to responsibility. The film uses its romantic terrain to sow seeds of far greater import.

Reviewed on: 10 Nov 2005
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A diplomat uncovers a web of deceit as he investigates the death of his wife.
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Read more The Constant Gardener reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****
Sarah Artt ****

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Writer: Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carre

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Kounde, Danny Huston, Daniele Harford, Bill Nighy, Keith Pearson, Nick Reding, Gerald McSorley

Year: 2005

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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