Monday, March 18, 2013

The Constant Gardener

Originally Written and Posted at on 9/4/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the novel by John Le Carre, The Constant Gardener is the story about a British diplomat who tries to figure out what happened to his wife where he discovers about illegal business practices involving pharmaceuticals in Africa by his own government. Directed by Fernando Meirelles and screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, the film is about a man dealing with his wife's loss and how he tries to help uncover into why she was murdered in Africa. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, Donald Sumpter, and Pete Postlethwaite. The Constant Gardener is a phenomenal thriller from Fernando Meirelles.

The film is about a quiet British diplomat who learns about his the murder of his activist wife as he tries to figure out what happened to her. Yet, he goes into a journey into figuring out why she was murder as in Kenya as it relates to the illegal business practices relating to pharmaceuticals. The story is largely told from the the eyes of this diplomat named Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) who is quiet individual who often escapes into being a gardener. The death of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) forces him to asks questions as he asks those in his government about what happened forcing him to go to Kenya himself. Even as it involves a top political official in Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighhy) where Quayle begins to piece out the things his wife was trying to uncover as it involves illegal testing on Africans where he eventually meets a doctor in Marcus Lorber (Pete Postlethwaite) whom he met some time earlier as Quayle realizes it's a bigger thing that concerns Africa as a whole.

A lesser director or someone more commercial would've tried to get away from a lot of the social commentary of the film to go more into the romantic subplot of the movie while trying to make it more appealing for a mass audience without being too preachy. Director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine refused to polish any of those ideas. Caine's adaptation of the Le Carre` novel gives the story a wonderfully stylish thriller that has a bit of romance and suspense as well as some insightful social commentary. What is going on in Africa with its poverty, people dying from disease, and being used as guinea pigs for drug testing is truly disgusting. The way Caine told the story was giving the film's first act a non-linear structure of flashbacks even a bit of that in the second and third act.

The structure of the story is wonderful where the first act is Justin's relationship with Tessa and dealing with her activism. The second act is him grieving and realizing what she was trying to do. The third is him finally realizing his own role and the sacrifices he's making. This is some great storytelling with a lot of dangers about pharmaceuticals where things can go wrong in the side effects. Even in the social commentary, we see things where Meirelles captures every awful that is going on and at moments, we see Tessa and later on, Justin trying to do what is right for one person where maybe, that little moment can change someone's life.

Meirelles' ability to give the story not just a genre-bending style in the storytelling but his raw approach of directing gives the film some intense reality. Shooting on location in Africa, Meirelle captures everything from the landscapes, deserts, to the shanty towns and villages where all those poor people live. With his regular cinematographer Cesar Charlone, the film is shown just as it is without any kind of visual effects or artificial lighting. The scenery in Africa is very epic in its look while using all the people as extras where hopefully, he and the people involved probably gave them some kind of hope in this amazing film.

Even in some of the most intense moments, Meirelle does what is necessary, even in something like he death, he does what a wise director would do. Even in why Justin finds comfort in the gardens he's in that is really metaphoric to what Tessa is doing. Meirelles' directing is truly a remarkable step up from what he achieved in his 2002 film City of God. Charlone meanwhile, in scenes in London and Berlin goes for a grainy, monochrome hand-held style of shooting to give the movie a realistic, dreamy look while his African photography style is exquisitely amazing.

Editor Claire Simpson brings in wonderfully-paced, stylized cutting approach to the film in its 130-minute running time where it doesn't feel very slow. Plus, the non-linear style of the movie doesn't lose itself once the story keeps going. Production designer Mark Tidesley also does well in capturing the authenticity of what Africa looks like from its villages and the surroundings of the rich lifestyle where the government lives as does costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux. Finally, there's the exquisitely harrowing, dramatic film score of Alberto Iglesias who brings in the intensity style of a thriller as well as the intense drama of Justin's anguish over Tessa's death. Also there is a great soundtrack of nice African music in the background.

Then there's the film's cast with some wonderful standout performances from the African actors and extras in the film, notably the children who Justin and Tessa would try to help as the audience can hope have a nice future in these troubled times. The film also features some great performances from Archie Panjabi, Anneke Kim Sarnau, Gerard McSorley, Donald Sumpter, Rupert Simonian, and Richard McCabe as the sympathetic, caring allies that Justin and Tessa have while trying to protect each other from their own government. Hubert Kounde is also excellent in the role as Arnold who might be suspected of wrongdoing but we see that he's a wonderful companion with Weisz in his knowledge of Africa while trying to be her partner in helping people.

Pete Postlethwaite is brilliant as a doctor who does all he can to help poor villagers and Africans while taking on children as his assistants as a man who is doing the right thing while living in fear of the knowledge he holds about Tessa's death. Bill Nighy is brilliant as the slimy Bernard Pellegrin who is doing everything he can to cover up his business while giving dark threats to what he wants to do. Nighy deserves a lot of credit for playing a villainous diplomat, especially recently in the recent TV film The Girl in the Café, that was written by Richard Curtis and directed by David Yates, where he plays a mild-mannered diplomat who is under pressure too in trying to save the world. Danny Huston is also excellent in his role as a shady diplomat whose intentions for Tessa is being conflicted with his own political desires. Huston brings a lot of emotional intensity and complexity to a character that could've been done more in a traditional style of writing but there's something more human about in it in Huston's portrayal.

Rachel Weisz gives her most passionate and intense performance as Tessa with a combination of power, spark, warmth, and sadness. Also playing with a prosthetic labor-suit, Weisz brings in a realism and attitude to a great character that has no limits and is very free. In her scenes with Fiennes, we see the warmth that she brings and her frustrations into his lack of support. Ralph Fiennes is extremely brilliant as the mild-mannered turned passionate fighter Justin Quayle. Fiennes brings in a lot of restraint and subtlety early on while struggling with the idea of his wife supposed infidelities and her activism. Fiennes brings a lot more development to the role as he does all he can to help out despite his lack of power and strength.

The Constant Gardener is a superb film from Fernando Meirelles with the amazing performances of Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. It's a thriller that raises questions into the world of pharmaceuticals as well as how those are profiting from it while ignoring something that could help the world. It's also a film that isn't trying to be heavy-handed in its message though it is balanced by the human drama about man's devotion to his wife. In the end, The Constant Gardener is a marvelous film from Fernando Meirelles.

Fernando Meirelles Films: (O Menino Maluquino 2) - (Domesticas) - City of God - (Blindness) - (360)

© thevoid99 2013


Dan O. said...

I thought that this movie was a little too crazy and twisty for it's own good, but still worked because it was always thrilling, and showing us something new. Not perfection, but still pretty damn good. Good review bud.

thevoid99 said...

It does have it's flaws but it is still a thriller that is well-acted and well-made. Meirelles hasn't done anything good after that for some reason.

s. said...

Loved the movie, the romance between Tessa and Justin was so beliavable and usual and both Weisz and Fiennes did tremendous job here. Her Oscar win is one of my favorite.

thevoid99 said...

@Sati-Her performance was definitely the highlight of the film. Plus, it wasn't a showy performance and those are the performances that I love.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review. I really do love this movie, and you're right: it's a heavy film, but never a heavy handed one. Very important distinction there.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-If it had been heavy-handed, I would've been banging my head at the chair but thankfully, it wasn't. Notably as it focused more on characters rather than messages.