Rating: 3 out of 5
A preachy but gripping socio-political thriller, "TheConstant Gardener" captures the parched beauty of African desert nations,personifies the horrors of their poverty in dusty, sunburned detail, andpulls no punches in its view of greedy drug companies that feign altruismbut view encroaching epidemics as lucrative boons for their stockholders.
Based on the John Le Carre novel of the same name, thefilm's politics are couched in a brutal and twist-filled murder mystery.Ralph Fiennes plays Justin Quayle, a dry, charmingly wonky English diplomatwhose bottled adoration for his eye-catching young wife (Rachel Weisz)-- an impetuous, impassioned human rights activist his colleagues hopehe won't bring to parties -- becomes dangerously uncorked when she is killedand mutilated while on an aid mission.
Realizing there's more to her death than meets the eyewhen his inquiries for more information are deflected by even his closestassociates -- and suspecting she may have been up to something more aswell -- Quayle drops off the diplomatic radar and begins a dangerous amateurinvestigation that puts him in the crosshairs of corrupt politicians, corporatestooges and ruthless warlords.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles with the same unblinking,sweaty, ground-level grittiness he brought to "City of God,"his brilliant verite expose of Brazilian poverty, "The Constant Gardener"becomes an incredible puzzle with far-flung pieces that Quayle must linktogether with tenuous but damning evidence. And whether he travels to Londonor hitches a lift with the Red Cross to a remote village in Kenya devastatedby disease (in order to interrogate a particular doctor), he's under suchconstant threat that in some scenes it feels as if any background actorcould be a hired killer closing in.
Through almost lyrical, psyche-tapping editing and dynamic,voyeuristic photography, Meirelles parallels this tension with intimatescenes (both romantic and contentious) from Quayle's courtship and marriage,providing a tender, human driving force for his determination. Weisz ("TheMummy," "TheShape of Things") embodies her martyredcharacter with an appealing balance of femininity, intrepidness and fierce,intelligent determination (especially in her boots-on-the-ground aid efforts,even while pregnant). Fiennes percolates with bliss sublimated by the angstof a man who competes for attention with his wife's other passions.
But upon seeing her body, these contrasting parts of hispsyche forge together into single-minded resolve that threatens to turnself-destructive, as Quayle never stops to think what he'll do with thecomplete picture of her murder once all the pieces are in place.
While the film's underlying but overt humanitarian messageis likely to rankle wealthy cheerleaders for corporate autonomy, "TheConstant Gardener" (the title comes from Quayle's metaphorical backyardhobby) has a handful of real problems as well, not the least of which ispotential confusion stemming from the unfolding intrigue.
It's a plus for the mystery that the audience never knowsmore than Quayle as he sticks his nose where it's not wanted. But witha large roster of shadowy figures, it's easy to lose track of characterswho later become pivotal to the emerging conspiracy. As if to make up forthis, a scene late in the film backpedals into raw exposition that is almostworse than the confusion (and fails to clear up the points that perplexedme personally). A smaller jolt of awkwardness comes from a throwaway lineabout Weisz's character being only 24 years old, which doesn't jibe withher worldliness and extensive experience, or the fact that the actressis actually 10 years older.
But "The Constant Gardener" has the power toovercome such faults and tell a riveting story while making unequivocalstatements about drug testing and pricing, Western aid to impoverishedcountries, and the upheaval and anarchy that result when the motives forthat aid are not pure. Like "The China Syndrome," "Silkwood"and "TheInsider," it's a political thriller inthe best sense of the term -- turning over crucial rocks, but engrossingthe audience with the nail-biting process, not with what it finds underneath.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 31st August 2005
Box Office USA: $33.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $82.5M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Potboiler Productions Ltd., Scion Films Limited, Focus Features, UK Film Council, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Vierte Babelsberg Film
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 153 Rotten: 30
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, Rachel Weisz as Tessa Quayle, Danny Huston as Sandy Woodrow, Bill Nighy as Sir Bernard Pellegrin, Donald Sumpter as Tim Donohue, Pete Postlethwaite as Dr. Lorbeer aka Dr. Brandt, Richard McCabe as Arthur "Ham" Hammond, Hubert Koundé as Dr. Arnold Bluhm, Daniele Harford as Miriam, Bernard Otieno Oduor as Jomo, Damaris Itenyo Agweyu as Jomo's Wife, Keith Pearson as Porter Coleridge, John Sibi-Okumu as Dr. Joshua Ngaba, Archie Panjabi as Ghita Pearson, Gerard McSorley as Sir Kenneth Curtiss, Juliet Aubrey as Gloria Woodrow, Jacqueline Maribe as Wanza Kiluhu, Donald Apiyo as Kioko, Anneke Kim Sarnau as Birgit