The Constant Gardener
- Fernando Meirelles
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a mild-mannered British diplomat, lives a quiet, simple life that’s not exactly the type his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) embraces. She’s an activist by nature—they even met when she confronted him during a lecture—and she’s always up to something. Justin doesn’t know much about her work, but sometimes he worries about the goings-on in her life, which is completely out of his reach and control, and could even include a couple infidelities. Then she dies, along with her friend Arnold (Hubert Koundé), apparently the result of a crime of passion. Justin is shocked by the news, and for once decides to do more than just stand there.
So he starts digging, and uncovers a web of intrigue that he could never suspect. Apparently Tessa was investigating a pharmaceutical juggernaut that conducted questionable experiments on African people and did or was about to do something much worse. Being so close to these people, Africa being Justin and Tessa’s home, only made matters worse as she so easily got to care about everyone that surrounded her. Her investigation only uncovered mud, tons of it, and she couldn’t stop digging. Then she got killed. But who did it? Why, exactly? Which of their trusted friends was involved or didn’t help prevent it though he could? And why on Earth didn’t Justin have the faintest idea about any of this? Tessa was reason enough for him to live, the simple man that he was, and her death shakes him to the bone. He’s not about to move on, especially since he’s guilt-ridden about having been jealous instead of supportive to his loving wife. Justin sets to continue her work, not because he really cares, but because he wishes he had. And he’s willing to go to the last consequences.
Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, responsible for the amazing City of God (2002), has brought his unique, shattering filmmaking style to a story that requires no less. A team of true artists, including editor Claire Simpson, cinematographer César Charlone and musician Alberto Iglesias, seem to have devoted more than their skills to this perfectly crafted, truly affecting film.
And then there are the actors. Fiennes is fantastic in the lead, completely credible throughout his adventure, perfectly British in his reactions, absolutely tragic all along. Weisz is beyond words as his object of obsession. From the get-go she’s a natural, 100% genuine in her depiction of a carefree woman that’s everything but carefree. How she laughs, talks, gets mad, confronts, steps back, cares, helps, participates, it’s all first-rate work. Her Tessa certainly is obsession material, clearly a woman who belongs but doesn’t, and leaves everybody wanting more. It’s hard to see how Justin could not be obsessed, and that’s what makes the movie work. The scenes where Justin imagines her in after-death conversations that are formed with memories of actual moments are especially outstanding.
The rest of the cast, including Danny Huston, Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite is top-notch as well.
Jeffrey Caine’s script is slightly contrived at times, wrongly focusing on a tad too many arguably unnecessary details, especially during the first half, but I don’t want to criticize his fine craft as he struggled to maintain the spirit and true heart of the original story—and succeeded.
“It’s almost like it’s a marriage of convenience and the only thing it’s gonna produce is dead offspring.”
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Other reviews of The Constant Gardener (2005): Morris