A gripping thriller that also functions as an intelligent and moving drama, The Constant Gardener is easily one of the year’s best films.
Fernando Meirelles’ last film, City of God, was a stunning look at crime in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. He may have been a surprising choice to tackle the intrigue of John Le Carré’s 2001 novel, but he turns out to have been an inspired choice, bringing an unexpected energy and power to the material. This is very different from the refined world of previous Le Carré adaptations like The Russia House and The Tailor of Panama. Instead, we are plunged into a fractured and sinister world where Western interests exploit the poverty and corruption in modern day Africa.
Told in flashback, the story explores how an aid worker and activist (Rachel Weisz), came to be killed whilst travelling on a remote highway in Kenya. Her diplomat husband, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), sees his grief turn into anger when he slowly realises that the official reason given for her death – rogue bandits – doesn’t add up. Determined to find out what really happened to her, Quayle soon uncovers a web of deceit that involves his superiors in the British Embassy (Danny Huston and Bill Nighy) and the involvement of a Pharmaceutical company in the development of a new drug to cure TB. The deeper he digs, the more he discovers about his late wife and the issues she wanted to uncover which include the political quiescence of governments to the interests of drug companies and the lengths they will go to in order to cover it up.
The narrative jumps are often sudden and that may put off some viewers but the emotional and intellectual pull of the film is such that it keeps you hooked til the final scenes. Perhaps the most remarkable quality of The Constant Gardener is its skilful weaving of so many different elements. The past is intercut with the present, personal grief is mixed with political anger and mystery with revelation. On a visual level the cynical sophistication of Europe, with its blues and greys, is starkly juxtaposed with the poverty and beauty of Africa, shot through with oranges and yellows.
Complementing the two colour schemes is the extensive use of handheld which – as in City of God – gives a raw immediacy to both the politics of the film and the love story that underpins it. The acting throughout is hard to fault. In what is easily her best performance to date Weisz creates a sympathetic, yet enigmatic character that is not initially what she seems. Fiennes is equally as good, managing to portray the gradual cracking of his very British reserve with consummate skill and together they make an utterly convincing screen couple, who have a deep love for one another despite their obvious differences in temperament.
The supporting cast is excellent with Huston and Nighy in particular standing out as living and breathing examples of modern political cynicism and hypocrisy. One scene, set in the dining rooms of Whitehall, brings a fresh perspective to the British corridors of power. Instead of stiff, ageing mandarins we have oily, evasive figures justifying their dubious motives. But The Constant Gardener is a lot more than just a polemic about world events, it is an absorbing thriller with a raw emotional heart, a masterful weaving of the personal and political.
> Official Site
> Watch the trailer (notice the use of the music from Spy Game)
> IMDb Link
> Director Fernando Meirelles discusses the film and why he took on the project in The Independent
> Rachel Weisz discusses her role in The Guardian
> Ralph Fiennes and Fernando Meirelles talk to Radio 4’s The Film Programme
> Christina Odone in The Times doesn’t like the political overtones of the film
> Meirelles discusses how he jettisoned the class aspect of Le Carre’s original novel
> The Constant Gardener Trust – The charity the film makers and stars set up after being affected by the issues of poverty portrayed in the film