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Awesome: 20.79%
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10 reviews, 41 user ratings

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Constant Gardener, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not a plant-this movie is genius."
5 stars

At the beginning of “The Constant Gardener,” Fernando Meirelles’s brilliant and haunting adaptation of John Le Carre’s 2000 best-seller, a man is called into a morgue to identify the corpse of his wife. Although he recognizes and identifies her easily enough, there is a certain sense in which he has no idea of who she is or how her beliefs could have led her to wind up on a cold slab after being brutalized so savagely that the sight of her body causes another onlooker to instantly vomit in horror. To his credit, the man realizes this and begins to investigate, in his own quiet and methodical manner, what happened in order to honor her memory and, to his shock and surprise, finds himself rediscovering what it was about her that he fell in love with in the first place. What he discovers about her life and death, not to mention how he discovers it and what results from it, makes for one of the mesmerizing films that you will see this year.

The man is Justin (Ralph Fiennes), a career British diplomat who believes that the best way to approach both his job and life is to go about them in the most quiet and unassuming manner possible. The woman is Tessa (Rachel Weisz), a brash activist who believes that the best way to effect change is to confront those responsible for the ills of the world head-on without relenting until the desired changes occur. They meet in a college classroom where Justin is lecturing a group of largely apathetic students while Tessa self-righteously shouts down his every comment. Despite that initial bump, there is an attraction between the two and they soon marry. Although Justin loves her, he doesn’t quite understand her or her confrontational attitude towards life–especially when many of those confrontations are aimed at the very people that he has to deal with on a daily basis. For her, she can’t understand why he is content to let matters lie instead of getting outraged at the obvious injustices in the world.

Things come to a head when Tessa learns that a giant pharmaceutical company is testing an unproven drug used to combat HIV in desperately poor African villages without informing the unsuspecting guinea pigs of the possible dangers. Tessa begins to make waves and learns that the company has asked certain government officials to keep track of her activities. It is on a trip to Kenya with a fellow activist that they are waylaid and brutally killed in the desert. To the surprise of everyone, including himself, Justin decides to investigate the circumstances surrounding her death and discovers frightening links between the crime, the pharmaceutical company and high-ranking government officials. Even more surprising, he begins to truly understand Tessa and what drove her to such lengths during the course of his investigation and as he proceeds further and further, it is as if he is truly falling love with the real her for the first time.

One of the brilliant things about “The Constant Gardener” is the way that it demonstrates that the story of a movie is often less important in the long run than the manner in which the story is told. This film tells its story using a fractured narrative structure that jumps back and forth in time and starts with the knowledge that Tessa is dead–a structure that adds considerable heft and meaning to the flashback scenes since we know what the end result of her behavior and actions is going to be. In print (and I understand that Le Carre told his story in a similar manner), this is a structure that is easy enough to pull off–if things get too complicated or confused, the reader can simply turn back a few pages and get back to speed. Obviously, a film does not allow for a similar luxury (at least not before it hits DVD) and attempting such a structure is an enormous risk–if it doesn’t come off correctly, it can wind up seeming like a pointless distraction. When I spoke to Meirelles a few weeks ago, he admitted that he did attempt to edit a more straightforward version of the film and found that it didn’t have much of an impact until he went back to Le Carre’s original structure. It works beautifully and lends an extra dramatic edge to the earlier scenes that might not have existed in a more conventional version.

Another thing that is striking about “The Constant Gardener” is the palpable sense of anger that seethes throughout the film. Although one might have assumed that the end of the Cold War might have signaled the end of the writing career of John Le Carre, who famously dealt with the subject in such works as “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” being forced to find new subject matter seems to have unlocked something in him as he recent works have become more and more pointed as to what he perceives as the social and ethical injustices in the world today. Here, he takes dead aim at a variety of targets– the chief ones here being the large corporations–pharmaceutical companies in this case–who ruthlessly exploit the people of Third World companies in order to make a larger profit and who just as ruthlessly deal with those who try to get in their way and government officials who refuse to intervene, either because they are in the pocket of those corporations or simply because they don’t want to make any waves. In Meirelles, Le Carre has found a director who is perfectly in tune with those jaundiced sentiments and the result is a film that serves as a primal scream of righteous indignation that refuses to pull any punches by letting viewers off the hook with cartoonish villains or an out-of-the-blue happy ending. The villains here are all the more frightening because they are the exact same people that appear on the financial pages every day and while there are slight triumphs in the end, there is also the sense that business as usual will continue until more people like Tessa and, eventually, Justin are willing to take a stand.

Meirelles became one of the most highly acclaimed filmmakers around based on the surprise international success of his 2002 film “City of God.” I was one of those who wasn’t entirely impressed with that film–it was definitely well-made and stylishly done but I felt that he spent too much time demonstrating a flashy technique without investing the same amount of effort into the more mundane dramatic aspects. Although he once again shows a lot of style and visual flourished throughout–the most obvious example being the way that he shoots the British-based scenes in a cool, monochromatic style while filming the African sequences in rich and lustrous colors–he proves here that he is just as skilled at telling the story. Although “City of God” may have earned Meirelles an enormous amount of publicity and hype, it is his work here that proves without a doubt that he is worth every bit of it.

For all of his efforts, though, what really gives “The Constant Gardener” its heart and soul are the spellbinding performances from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in the lead roles. Fiennes would seem to have an unpromising role–his character basically a reactor instead of an instigator–but he finds an angle to it that keeps him from coming off as just a dull do-gooder; although he never bursts out into action heroics, the point in which he does finally begin to break free of his staid and steady life in order to take a stand is just as thrilling in its own way. Weisz, a wonderful actress (if you haven’t seen “The Shape of Things,” rent it right now) who is sadly still best known in the States for appearing in the generally worthless “Mummy” movies does some truly extraordinary things with the role of Tessa. Instead of portraying her as some kind of noble saint, she bravely paints her as a not-entirely-likable person–the kind of nagging scold who is always trying to show you how every single thing you say or do oppresses one group or another–and then allows her passion and determination to make the world a fairer and more just place by any means necessary shine through so that you truly understand why she goes to the lengths that she does and why Justin would be enchanted by her despite their seeming incompatibility

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12868&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/31/05 00:36:05
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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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