Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Constant Gardener

THE CONSTANT GARDENER (Fernando Meirelles, 2005)

In THE CONSTANT GARDENER a British diplomat stationed in Kenya receives news that his activist wife has been found murdered. Ralph Fiennes stars as Justin Quayle, the husband who diligently digs for the truth about her death. Rachel Weisz plays Tessa, a headstrong woman whose investigation into pharmaceutical corporation malfeasance in Africa may have brought about her demise. Rumors persist, though, that Tessa and her travel companion, a doctor who has gone missing, were having an affair. The conventional wisdom is that Tessa’s murder is nothing more than a crime of passion, but Justin finds indications of a greater conspiracy at work.

As he did with the astonishing CITY OF GOD, director Fernando Meirelles captures intimacy and an authentic sense of place in THE CONSTANT GARDENER. Handheld camerawork has become shorthand for “edgy” filmmaking, but Meirelles utilizes it not as a gimmick but as an essential means for telling the story. THE CONSTANT GARDENER’S power comes in the private, tender scenes between Justin and Tessa and the immediacy of being thrust into crowded locations, places where a roving camera can get with greater ease.

Adapted from a John Le CarrĂ© book, the film brims with the intrigue and surprises expected from the espionage novelist. Although the storyline is relatively complicated, Meirelles’ deft direction and Jeffrey Caine’s incisive screenplay delineate the twisty plot. Fiennes and Weisz add the emotional heft to the film’s sociopolitical machinations and message.

In spite of all the thriller elements, THE CONSTANT GARDENER is a love story in which Justin’s affection for his wife intensifies as he discovers the truth about a woman he didn’t know completely. Fiennes, who often plays the tortured lover, comes to life as Justin arrives at revelations that far exceed what he anticipated. Weisz excels as the feisty, conscientious Tessa, playing her with the right mix of bravado and composure.

A brisk, galvanizing journey through the political thicket in Africa, THE CONSTANT GARDENER positions Meirelles as a leading director of electrically charged dramas with social consciences.

Grade: B+

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