Saturday, January 28, 2006

Movie Review: "The Constant Gardener"

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite
Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Making terrific use of on location shooting in Kenya and the surrounding area, "The Constant Gardener" achieves a gritty realism to its story involving the murder of a British diplomat's wife and the husband's persistent efforts to discover whodunit.
That said, the plot isn't based on fact, but a John Le Carré novel that tracks the amateur sleuthing of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a relatively low-level diplomat sent to work for the British government in Africa. His wife Tessa, (Golden Globe winner Rachel Weisz) a headstrong and outspoken political activist, has been found murdered in the African countryside. Early thoughts are perhaps bandits are responsible for the murder, but Justin suspects otherwise, and rightfully so.
Director Fernando Meirelles (a previous Oscar-nominee for the outstanding drama "City of God") proves to be a great match for the material, by keeping the story and its underlying mystery moving at a steady pace. Yet, he's not afraid to use a wide variety of color schemes and camera angles to keep things just left of conventional.
Not that the story itself can be considered conventional, although it does incorporate some standard elements of thrillers, such as government conspiracies and hidden agendas of characters. But while the movie works very well on the thriller level, at its heart beats a love story about a husband falling even more in love with his wife after her death.
The couple's relationship is effectively weaved into the story through a series of flashbacks, choosing to depend on the audience to pick up some of the details of their live along the way. The well structured and intelligent screenplay by Jeffrey Caine allows the audience to make its own discoveries right along with Justin, instead of choosing to spell everything out.
On the surface, Justin and Tessa would appear to be complete opposites. He's a quiet, mild-mannered person, more at ease in his garden than at social and business functions. She's brash and doggedly persistent, yet big-hearted and passionate. In short, they are both attracted to those character traits that the other possesses.
As Justin begins to dig deeper into Tessa's death, he realizes she had uncovered a pharmaceutical company involved in testing products on African residents. She had chosen to keep her findings secret from him, a fact he struggles to understand. Still, he feels compelled to finish the investigation she started, even though he is well aware of the risks involved.
Fiennes is a dependably good actor, and gives his best performance since "Schindler's List." He has to play two diverse sides to his character and serve as the film's centerpiece. Though she has much less screen time, Weisz also does great work here, crafting a lively performance that resonates through the entire movie.
Some of the supporting parts, while probably more fleshed out in Le Carré's book, are rather undercooked here, but still mostly serve their purpose.
With its topical storyline portraying influence and possible corruption in the world of pharmaceuticals, "The Constant Gardener" shows the power such an industry can have. But it also demonstrates that the power of love can be even stronger.
Grade: A-
(Rated R for language, some violent images and sexual content/nudity.)

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