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10 reviews, 41 user ratings

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Constant Gardener, The
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by Robert Flaxman

"Not the world's most illuminating title."
3 stars

Only intermittently, it seems, do movies attempt to intertwine two plots as otherwise different as heartfelt romance and scathing political critique. If nothing else, The Constant Gardener proves why not Ė with two radically different types of story competing for screen time, more often than not at least one will be given short shrift, hurting the film as a whole.

Since the film is based on a novel, itís unlikely that the love story in The Constant Gardener was actually shoehorned in to sell tickets Ė though you can see where one might get that idea otherwise Ė but itís hard to say that it matters considering that what is left is one of the least convincing romances in recent memory. Told entirely in flashback, what we see of the relationship between Justin (Ralph Fiennes) and Tessa (Rachel Weisz) reveals that while they appear to have sexual chemistry, itís not clear that theyíre ever on the same emotional wavelength, or really even close. Relationships, and films about them, have been built around less, but scenes late in the film come off as a bit hokey considering the lack of definition the relationship receives.

Truth be told, it would be easy to argue that the romance is largely, if not exclusively, a conduit for the filmís politics. It doesnít need to be that well-defined because, for all its focus, it is essentially a macguffin. Tessaís murder, revealed almost right away, drives Justinís quest to find out what exactly happened to her, which leads to the digging up of various secrets and political intrigue.

The Constant Gardenerís mystery really isnít much of one, though. Most of the characters are so oily that itís hard to be surprised when one of them turns out to have been up to no good. But then, again, the mystery isnít really the point either. Itís all window dressing in service of a pointed critique of Western policy in Africa regarding the activities of large pharmaceutical companies.

Director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine (scripting from John le Carrťís novel) are concerned with the exploitation of the third world by big corporations from the first world. In this case, a drug named Dypraxa is being held up as a solution for an impending tuberculosis epidemic, but it turns out that some of the drugís less savory results have been covered up. Tessa, and later Justin, are out to reveal the conspiracy.

This, too, is handled in relatively straightforward fashion. The Constant Gardener may be one of the most direct thrillers in history; even though the film acts like it is full of twists and turns, little of the action and basically none of the revelations happen without having been significantly telegraphed earlier in the film. The film is more of a bleeding-heart activist piece than a thriller, to the point that it suggests that sacrificing yourself for a cause you believe in is the ultimate noble end.

Thereís nothing wrong with an activist piece. Except for the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda, widely-seen films about the way in which the West continues to mishandle its relationship with a fractured African continent are few and far between. Le Carrťís story is fiction, but as Le Carrť himself notes in the filmís end credits, the fiction is not far from the reality and in some ways it is tamer. Still, if youíre going to make a film of this type, why try and pretend itís something itís not? In some ways, the message is weakened by the focus on the activists rather than the activism. Justinís motivation in taking up Tessaís fight seems to be driven by her loss, not necessarily by a sincere belief in the battles she waged. Itís better that the message is out there than not at all, but the filmmakers almost seem slightly embarrassed by it, by making Tessa the shrillest activist possible and trying to let other aspects of the film take center stage.

Romance and activism might work all right together, but add in the only slightly thrilling thriller aspect and things just get muddled up. The message is still there, but with all the men in suits who end up getting brought down, itís too easy to forget where the real focus should be. Meirelles is also guilty of getting a bit too cute with his camera; as with the film that made his name, City of God, there are too many moments where he seems to use a filter or style just for the sake of doing it, which can be visually distracting.

All this is not to say that the film is bad Ė itís paced fairly well and the acting is solid, apart from Danny Hustonís wavering accent Ė just that it could have been better if it had been up for deciding what it wanted to do. Instead, it gets ambitious and throws together a bit more than itís able to support in terms of plot. It may be the most marketable film it could be because of that, but itís not the best film it could be.

Ultimately, the problem with The Constant Gardener is that it tries to dress itself up in clothing it has no business wearing. Itís possible to make gripping message films about complicated global political and social issues Ė Syriana comes to mind as a recent example. But that filmís politics were right out in the open, not hidden behind a wall of so-so mystery and a lukewarm romance. The Constant Gardenerís heart is on its sleeve, but itís wearing the shirt inside-out.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12868&reviewer=385
originally posted: 07/05/06 00:51:10
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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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