The Constant Gardener

"Bad"

The Constant Gardener Review


She's a bleeding heart radical who opposes the Iraq war and feels terrible about poor HIV-inflicted Kenyans. He's a stodgy establishment lackey working for the British High Commission who loves to mind his own business and tend to his gardens. Together, Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) uncover an insidious plot orchestrated by pharmaceutical conglomerates in Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener, a hybrid of '70s-era thrillers like The Parallax View and this year's pro-U.N. fiasco The Interpreter. Adapted from John le Carré's novel, Meirelles' follow-up to his critically overpraised City of God is a concoction of paranoia-drenched conspiracy theories and white liberal guilt over Africa that purports to sympathize with the plight of impoverished Kenyans, but whose real agenda is the vilification of evil Western corporations and the celebration of Africa-loving white martyrs. Infested with mournful close-ups of smiling indigenous kids, Meirelles' film demands that we feel both sorrow over Africa's burgeoning AIDS crisis and fury over the superpowers' sinister refusal to truly help. Primarily, however, his film cares no more about Africa than do the story's evil villains at make-believe drug company FDH.

Collaborating with his City of God cinematographer César Charlone, Meirellas once again fetishistically focuses on destitution and suffering, shooting his squalid Kenyan locations in grimy, slightly overexposed colors and with expressionistic camera angles, turning the beautiful landscape into a harsh pit of fluorescent yellows, rotting greens, stark blacks, and blooming whites. It's a phony-baloney (if striking) visual aesthetic that, when married to the director's rollercoaster-ish hand-held cinematography, provides a sense of both immediacy and self-conscious artistry. Yet no amount of stylistic showing-off can offset the ludicrousness of a love scene between Justin and Tessa - shot in downy hues, it looks like a L'Oreal commercial with excessive zooms - or the preposterousness of Jeffrey Caine's clunky, preachy script, which gussies up its straightforward mystery with numerous flashbacks but fails to confront its central issues of African poverty and corporate malfeasance with anything approaching a rational mind.

Tessa is working undercover to expose the truth about KDH's new TB medicine called Dypraxa, the on-the-ground trials of which are resulting in countless deaths which the company and the British government (in league with the drug bigwigs) want to conceal. It's a classic Big Brother-ish scenario in which the little guy struggles to expose the powers-that-be as malevolent criminals, but the plot's main conceit is that, because Tessa is mysteriously murdered at film's outset and is only seen in flashback, it is passive Justin who must unearth the conspiracy on behalf of disenfranchised African guinea pigs and bring justice to the continent. Part retrospective love story in which Justin falls in love with his wife (and undergoes an awakening of his social conscience) after her death, and part Christ-like tale of noble, selfless sacrifice in which Justin must risk life and limb to bring Tessa's revelatory Dypraxa report to light, Meirelles' film takes the stand of Bob Geldof's recent Live 8 concerts, which claimed to be about shining a spotlight on Africa yet were instead venues for narcissistic whites who believe that the only way to save Africa is through Caucasian intervention. Look at all the despondent dark-skinned natives, Meirelles' supercilious film asks of us, and now watch some decent, righteous light-skinned folks come to their aid.

That not a shred of blame for the continent's dire situation is placed on Africa's corrupt, homegrown governments reveals The Constant Gardener's unbalanced political agenda, but such disingenuousness is part and parcel of a film in which Pete Postlethwaite's Dr. Lorbeer says, without a trace of irony, "Big pharmaceuticals are up there with arms dealers." Embodying another repressed, emotionally closed-off Brit, Fiennes is pitch-perfectly stolid even as his character is forced into spy thriller-mandated car chases, and Weisz brings a measure of fire to the proceedings as holier-than-thou insurgent Tessa. The problem isn't one of performances, however, but one of condescension. In Meirelles' faulty equation, Africa is a mess because of Western businesses, and the only solution is the virtuous gallantry of Western do-gooders; Africans themselves merely function as helpless victims in need of rescuing. Somehow, I think it's the promotion of viewpoints such as this - and not the wheeling and dealing of big pharmaceutical giants - that exemplify Dr. Lorbeer's claim, "This is how the world fucks Africa."



The Constant Gardener

Facts and Figures

Run time: 129 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 31st August 2005

Box Office USA: $33.6M

Box Office Worldwide: $82.5M

Budget: $25M

Distributed by: Focus Features

Production compaines: Potboiler Productions Ltd., Scion Films Limited, Focus Features, UK Film Council, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Vierte Babelsberg Film

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 153 Rotten: 30

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Justin Quayle, as Tessa Quayle, as Sandy Woodrow, as Sir Bernard Pellegrin, as Tim Donohue, as Dr. Lorbeer aka Dr. Brandt, as Arthur "Ham" Hammond, Hubert Koundé as Dr. Arnold Bluhm, 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, as Ghita Pearson, as Sir Kenneth Curtiss, as Gloria Woodrow, Jacqueline Maribe as Wanza Kiluhu, Donald Apiyo as Kioko, Anneke Kim Sarnau as Birgit

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

Advertisement
The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.