on 18 April 2011
This is a truly thought provoking, wonderfully acted masterpiece of a movie. All the actors are good, but for me there is only one standout performance, that is Ralph Fiennes. His intelligent, poignant performance transdcents through every frame. You really feel his sadness and loss. He can convey so much with one gaze from those AMAZING eyes, this combined with understaded, faultless acting is a wonderful combination. I feel he is so underated as an actor. Why on earth this man has not won an Oscar is beyond me. Ralph Fiennes is without doubt our greatest living actor, and surely this must one day be recognised.
The title 'The Constant Gardener' has multiple meanings for this film, but first it refers to the obvious, the character of Justin Quayle, a middle-tier member of the British diplomatic corps in Africa, who is constantly trying to cultivate a proper garden, be it in London or in Africa. Into his routine civil service existence, Tessa arrives, full of ideas, passion for justice, and more than a few secrets. Of course, the diplomatic corps powers also have their secrets, and it is in the clash of secrets that Tessa ends up being murdered, and Justin's life turns from one of routine if not wholehearted loyalty to the service into an extraordinary, passionate and heart-felt loyalty to the memory of his wife.
This film is remarkable in several ways, not the least because of the cinematography. More than half the film is set in Africa, both Kenya and the Sudan. Here is life in all its contradictions - abject poverty and stunning beauty, illness and disease amidst the overpopulation; life among the dying, and death among the living. One thing the viewer will notice is that all of the scenes in Africa are shown in vivid, powerful colours. The scenes in London and on the European continent are faded and gray; despite the fact that the European scenes are invariably set in wealthy settings (private clubs, opulent halls, expensive buildings, etc.), they lack the colour and life of the African scenes - even the Kenyan shanty town and the Sudanese refugee camp seem to contain more life than the major cities of the Western world. This is surely no accident, but rather a device the director used to intensify the contradictions.
There are several plots that lead into one another - what was Tessa really up to? Who was involved, and to what degree? There are a few subplots that fall short, but on the whole, the film hangs together well in a narrative sense. Tessa's murder is an early event, and much of the film is done in flash-back or memory sequences, until the two come together in time frame and the mystery begins to reach some clarity.
This film is directed by Fernando Meirelles, who was nominated for an Oscar for his first film, the Brazilian 'City of God'. His is certainly a name to watch. In this film he directs
Ralph Fiennes ('The English Patient', a film that bears many similarities here) and Rachel Weisz ('The Mummy'), together with a good collection of British and African actors. The extras casting for Africa was extremely well done, and the nice touches such as the AIDS street-theatre performance in the Kenyan slum were inspired.
The film has a majestic, broad and sweeping feel to it. One is treated to a visual banquet of images, colourful deserts and lakes, wildlife and plant life, and the people of the lands of Africa, all truly remarkable. The music is sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic - much is inspired by native sounds of Africa.
The film is engrossing and interesting, causing many feelings to grow in the garden of viewing.
on 11 March 2006
I saw this at the cinema last night (it has been re-released after its Oscar success) and I can honestly say that this is one of the best films I've ever had the privelege to watch, and I've seen a lot of films.
This is such a powerful film because, while being fictional, it could so easily be(and probably is) a true reflection of what really does go on between drug companies and governments in exploiting those who most need our help. The use of real African people rather than actors heightens this intense realism and the moving scenes of African children near the end make you realise that this is not just a film; these people are real, and they are suffering, right now.
Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes are both spectacular; Rachel Weisz especially portrays Tessa as such a wonderfully vibrant, beautiful and passionate woman that you cannot help but adore her, and it is truly devastating, as we see her through flashbacks, to know that she was murdered for her noble efforts. Ralph Fiennes' quiet stoicism and slow realisation of just how brave a woman his wife was and how she was betrayed by those she trusted, is also intensely moving, and I don't think I was the only person who left the cinema with tears running down my face.
Don't miss out on this film. It is a brilliantly acted, beautifully shot and powerfully moving film that shows just how much, unfortunately, money really does make our world go round.
on 8 November 2008
I hadn't heard much of this film when I bought it but it had a good cast so I decided it would be a good buy. How right I was! To be honest this is not the kind of plot I am interested in, covered up government secrets or political/diplomatical troubles in other countries (that makes me sound really stupid!)but there was something so exciting and tantalising about this film, and in many parts totally heartbreaking. Plus fantastic photography of Africa. A must watch!
This was a much better feature than I had expected it to be, a very believable look at the world of diplomacy, esponiage, corporate greed and corruption.
I have heard complaints, which I think for the most part are legitimate, that corrupt corporations, particularly those willing to exploit failed states, lawlessness or weak law enforcement of the "third world", are a little cliche in the post Cold War spy genre, whether it is film or books, but this did not prove to be a problem with this presentation.
The manner in which the perfidious mendacity and cruelty of, this time, pharmaceutical corporations operating on the margins is discovered, repressed and then brought to light is realistic. The villains are sufficiently villainous without being unbelievable as players in the business world, the problem of appearing "Too Capone to be corporate" does not occur here, the perpetuation of the villainy by those who're just willing to look the other way is done well too.
The characters are all brilliant portrayed as human, all to human, for instance, the campaigning wife, crusader for what they consider right is more than a little neurotic, while others are complicit, cowardly or too polite for the role they find themselves cast in by the course of events. I also think the casting was good for this feature, I would not have chosen anyone else for the respective performances, despite being unsure about one or another.
The film is not exactly up beat and while I am not sure if what is portrayed is perfectly factual it is definitely plausible, I have no doubt that the powerful vested interests featured as engaging in corrupt and deathly dealings could or would do so, exercising the sorts of power and leverage which were once the preserve of equally cruel ideologues or state agents in the past. So if you'd like a feature which is gritty and does not pull its punches this is the movie for you.
In contrast to some other features I've seen about spy games, not least of which the movie by the director of Enemy of The State, or perhaps that movie itself, this is the more believable feature. There is nothing sensational about what are truly horrible events and cover ups, developments playing out through quiet intimidation and disputes among fairly elite types on the golf course or over lunch in establishment restaurants.
The Constant Gardener is an interesting case of strong direction and performances managing to paper over plot holes and some serious lapses in credibility. It's hard to imagine the two central characters ever finding themselves together anywhere but in a writer's wishful thinking, and the investigation into drugs' companies faking trials in Africa relies perhaps too heavily on slips of the tongue or the odd incriminating document or conversation, yet between the edgy but genuinely energetic direction, the better performances and the subject matter, it's surprisingly powerful and involving and definitely one of the best John Le Carre adaptations. Perfectly cast, Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz's limitations work for the roles for once: his awkward, half-apologetic shtick and her over-zealous head girl act are as right here as they are irritating in too many other films. Not all the casting or performances are as good, however, with Bill Nighy showing again why he's better in light comedy than in straight drama. Danny Huston shows some awkward beginnings before overcoming them and fully inhabiting his pathetic role as a spineless lovestruck embassy official - the accent seems a little too affected at first before wearing in. Well worth investigating.
The decent DVD extras package includes 4 deleted scenes, extended Haruma sequence, and featurettes Embracing Africa – Filming in Kenya, John Le Carre – From Page to the Screen and Anatomy of a Global Thriller, but while these have all been carried over to Universal's US Blu-ray release, the UK Blu-ray release is completely devoid of any extras (the German Blu-ray, however, includes all the extras and adds a 25-minute interview with the director, 18 minutes of cast interviews, additional behind the scenes footage, German and English trailers and TV spots)..
on 16 August 2007
The Constant Gardener is one of a new breed of spy movies that substitutes cliched action and a high body count for a more intelligent and subtle form of entertainment by intrigue. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weittz have a marvellous chemistry. The script is sharp. The direction has pace. Cast in the same mould as Spy Game or Syriana, a heartily recommend this movie as a thoroughly enjoyable night in.
on 25 February 2006
Fernando Merielles first burst on to the scene with the blistering City of God and his sophomore effort confirms him as an exciting directing talent. His intelligent take on John Le Carre’s complex novel is part conspiracy theory, part socio-political statement but mostly it’s an engaging thriller and a haunting romance.
Set among the baking and rusting blanket of the Kenyan shanty towns Merielles’ film doesn’t shy away from the decrepit and failing infrastructures that house, feed, persecute and kill the Kenyan people to further their own means. Scriptwriter Jeffery Caine treats both the audience’s intelligence and the source material with the utmost respect, balancing the wider themes of corporate greed with a fine observation of emotional detail.
The basis of the plot centres on low order diplomat Justin Quayle (a restrained Ralph Fiennes on fine form) and his marriage to the free spirited Tessa (a luminous Rachel Weisz). We pick up the threads of this relationship after it has already come to a tragic end and are, through a series of extended flashbacks, required to piece together the puzzle involving a shady pharmaceutical company, its money men, Third World aid as a tax write off, the death warrants signed off casually over dinner meetings and the lengths seemingly ordinary people will go to protect their image and reputation.
Merielles visual flourishes are still in clear evidence merging harsh realities of life in such conditions and the idiosyncrasies of love and devotion with an unsentimental grace. He employs some innovative camera techniques, clever editing, and repetition of key scenes cut with overlaid narrative or incidental conversations throughout the complex plotting but perhaps the best idea was to make use of the spectacular locations, landscapes and wildlife and improvise a lot of the shanty town scenes and dialogue that gives the overall feel of the films honesty.
Weisz has been getting the critical nods for her flighty and passionate performance as Tessa and such is her performance that despite her fate never being in doubt the impact is still just as devastating. It is Fiennes though who deserves the accolades as the buttoned down Justin who, slowly unravelling the clues his lost love leaves behind, begins to finally understand what drove the passion that remained a mystery to him. In less assured hands the quiet man forced to address that which he chose to ignore, could easily have become a caricature. As it stands Fiennes’ Quayle is an honest and noble man gradually awakened to extraordinary circumstances.
Those looking to be overly critical could argue that Merielles' hyperactive and often handheld camerawork jars at times or that the complex structure and narrative prove hard work, but this merely serves to involve the viewer in a taut, complex and superior thriller.
on 20 November 2005
This is not only an interesting film regarding the intriguingand controversial 'theory' that 'Drug Companies' use the 'Third World' peoples as Guinea-pigs in drug trial but is also a wondrful 'true life' portrayal of Africa.
A thought provoking film not to be missed.
on 16 July 2006
The Constant Gardner is a story woven about the life and death of the wife of a British Diplomat, Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz), and the unmasking of a conspiracy that threatens to cripple Anglo-Kenyan relations. Ralph Fiennes as the diplomat, Justin Quayle, exhibits classic, even stereo-typical British cool in investigating the real reasons for his young wife's demise, while showing an insight into the strains and pressures of ex-pat officialdom. Weisz appears throughout the film in flash back, but brings the 'right-on' Tessa to life.
Some truly undesirable notions are brought to the audience's attention, and the film doesn't particularly rose tint them, which just emphasises some of the realities of how we in the developed 'west' salve our guilt about sickness and poverty in Africa. Perhaps a mite condescending in the way it was depicted, maybe even a little patronising.
The novel's ending stopped a little short and left me wondering what would happen next, particularly in London, however, the movie takes Le Carres work and extends it a little to provide that information. This is a film I enjoyed and certainly appreciated being given it as a present. Not an easy movie by any measure and probably not the one to watch if you want light entertainment, but it will challenge your preconceptions and show you an Africa that falls between the old empire and pleas for foreign aid.