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10 reviews, 41 user ratings

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Constant Gardener, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A far better tragic love story than political thriller."
4 stars

"City of God" knocked me on my ass, in part because it was so unexpected - I generally don't expect to find amazing films at the secondary venue of a second-rate film festival. So, when I saw director Fernando Meirelles's name attached to "The Constant Gardener", I was more than a little excited. I was also a more than little nervous, though - he wouldn't be the first talented director to make a great movie in his backyard but stumble when suddenly working on different continents, in new languages, with more money than was available in Brazil but also many more expenses.

Fortunately, these added challenges only mean that Meirelles makes a movie that is more likely than not the best film playing at the multiplex rather than a debut masterpiece. That's all the more remarkable to me considering that the source material is a novel by John le Carré; what I've read of him has always struck me as pretty dry. Besides, it means he'll be spending a lot of time working with upper-class English characters, who have a reputation for displaying less emotion than Brazilian street kids.

Take Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes). A proper English gentleman he is, pursuing a career in the foreign service, his life is totally in control until he meets Tessa (Rachel Weisz). A fiery activist, Tessa doesn't quite awaken Justin's slumbering idealism, and given all the time she spends with handsome African doctor Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé), it may seem that their marriage is one of convenience - a beautiful wife to accompany him to formal events and a diplomat husband to provide cover and access for her investigations. And maybe, at times, that's how it works; marriages can fall into patterns where there's little visible passion. The film opens with an event sure to clear out the cobwebs, though: Justin identifying Tessa's body. The official explanation is bandits, but Justin's not stupid; he knows about the drug company Tessa was investigating, and he's not going to let her death be for nothing.

I wonder at what point the disjointed timeline was introduced in the filmmaking process - was it in the original novel, Jeffrey Caine's script, or was it Meirelles's idea? It's an interesting choice, because it makes the flashback segments almost wholly emotional rather than informational. We know what Tessa is investigating fairly early on, and we know where it's going to lead her. When we see those segments, we see them as they must be in Justin's memory - full of missed opportunities to say "I love you", to get out of the garden he meticulously tends to assist Tessa with her passions, etc.

What's interesting about Ralph Fiennes's performance in the "second half" - the portions that take place after Tessa is killed - is how he manages to to simultaneously increase Justin's determination and despair. They're not two emotions one normally thinks of as re-enforcing each other (an inverse relationship is more typical), but it makes him a much more interesting character than the reserved, protocol-following man of the "first half". It's beautifully tragic, really - as Justin becomes more admirable, he simultaneously becomes more an object of the audience's pity.

Rachel Weisz and Hubert Koundé have simpler roles, as idealists out to do The Right Thing for Africa, but that doesn't make them less important; we have to believe in them, Tessa especially, for Justin's quest to hit home. Ms. Weisz, especially, does a nice job of being Fiennes's opposite in terms of outspokenness but at the same time being his equivalent emotionally. In terms of how she really feels about Justin and, maybe, Arnold, though, she can be just as reserved as Fiennes, and that makes the quiet moments when this is revealed more quietly powerful. After them, though, the cast falls more into the realm of quietly competent, with Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Gerald McSorley et al doing the shady-but-unfailingly-proper thing (it actually takes a while to sort out which characters are which). Pete Postlethwaite turns in a nice performance as a doctor with a great weight on his conscience.

It occurs to me that I've been able to get nearly to the end of the review and only tangentially touch on the film's ostensible plot - investigating a drug company that is using Africa as a laboratory and dumping ground for spoiled drugs. Although it's not as important an element as Justin's emotional journey, The Constant Gardener does okay as a get-angry movie. Another cast and crew could remake it as such with a love story in the background and wind up with a movie just as good. It's actually kind of a negative; there's a line in the credits about how the story is fictional, but what really goes on would turn your stomach. I wonder if, perhaps, the producers meant to make a more overtly political movie, and wound up sacrificing that intention for a more romantic drama.

If so, at least they created good drama. There's plenty of movies that try to be both idealistic and dramatic but manage neither. That, at least, is a trap "The Constant Gardener" never falls into.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12868&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/19/05 13:34:16
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell gripping good film 4 stars
3/12/16 roberta wiener compelling, gripping,a smart person's film.. Fiennes" acting is amazing and subtle. 5 stars
4/26/12 tan hongtao a movie about a crasy bitch who lost her mind, 1 stars
3/18/09 Chaka Khan I dont understand the rave about this movie, not believable in any way and brutally boring 2 stars
11/08/08 mr.mike The central mystery isn't all that compelling, Fiennes and a satisfying ending compensate 4 stars
5/20/07 action movie fan BORING STORY COMSTANTLY DULL 1 stars
5/15/07 mb Excellent Movie ... useless ending. 4 stars
5/11/07 R.W. Welch A shade overdone, but still intriguing conspiracy flick. B- 4 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold been-done-before-and-better "drama/action", like Bulletproof Monk, but more boring. 2 stars
2/10/07 Mystic Dark, brooding and will haunt for along time. The story of our times.... 5 stars
11/13/06 Ryan_A Fiennes is fantastic. 4 stars
11/05/06 zaw WTF! This movie is for people who like to complicate their lives! Real life is not!!! 1 stars
11/01/06 Patsyc A good movie. It has a very good storyline. 4 stars
9/01/06 MP Bartley Angry, and the emotion of it creeps up on you. Fiennes is brilliant. 4 stars
7/31/06 Eden Despite the storyline, its a kinda bland film; completely forgetable 2 stars
5/19/06 Simon Doesn't quite have a knockout punch as a moviegoer would like, but its sincerity is legit 4 stars
5/06/06 daveyt enjoyable, didn't mind the time lapse plot, jerky cinematography and slow pace! 4 stars
4/29/06 millersxing A well-intentioned, overbearing snoozer. 2 stars
4/22/06 Phil M. Aficionado In a few days it will blend into a dozen others I've seen, full of incongruous twists 3 stars
3/11/06 Josh Standlee Fact: Ralph Feinnes is an emotionless android. 2 stars
3/06/06 Annie G Interesting overall, but seriously do people think drug companies have this much power? 4 stars
2/27/06 Serious Critic !0 Osrcar noms but still this is ciold war propaganda 4 stars
2/24/06 Indrid Cold A leisurely-paced thriller with more intimate romantic scenes than actual thrills. 4 stars
2/09/06 helen bradley A story that lingers well after leaving the flick, great acting all round and photograohy 5 stars
1/25/06 john bale Timely and disturbing thriller which must raise concern about the ethics of some Companies. 5 stars
1/21/06 Simon Very-very well done. Well-developed characters, unforced social awareness, smart dialogue 5 stars
1/16/06 Agent Sands Intelligent, well-directed film. 4 stars
1/12/06 middle earth characters with soul, but film event driven, who are these people? 4 stars
12/13/05 What's the matter with you people? What a complete waste of time! Weisz and Fiennes should be shot down for this! 1 stars
10/05/05 Taylor Fladgate Can you say "Oscar!"? This film will get at least 5 nods. 5 stars
9/28/05 Olga Reprintseva awakening and beautiful 4 stars
9/16/05 Suzz excellent performances but just your average thriller otherwise 3 stars
9/15/05 Jake I walked into this film expecting a great movie. An hour later, I walked disappointed. 2 stars
9/12/05 susan great 5 stars
9/07/05 Koitus Didn't care for "out of time" sequencing; many "false" leads provided, too... 2 stars
9/05/05 Ionicera great performances and love story 4 stars
9/04/05 Melina remembering the movie, brings tears to my eyes again - definitely worth seeing! 5 stars
9/04/05 Bob Siesholtz This was a horrible movie. It was slow moving and boring. Drug companies are evil. Thanks 1 stars
8/31/05 B.Blackbrain It was like a documentary by Alfred Hitchcock. Best movie I've seen all year. 5 stars
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  31-Aug-2005 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jan-2006



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