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The Constant Gardener
2005 - R - 129 Mins.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Producer: Simon Channing-Williams
Written By: John Le Carre, Jeffrey Caine
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Kounde, Danny Huston, Pete Poslethwaite
Review by: Chris Beaumont
Official Site: www.theconstantgardener.com/
   

We have to go.... Now!
'The Constant Gardener' plays out in a fractured manner which forces the viewer to actively work at putting it all together -- a little bit here, a little there, all giving hints about the bigger picture. That bigger picture works on many levels -- thriller, drama, romance -- each one winding its way toward a satisfying conclusion.

The story is a labyrinth involving an activist, Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz), who is investigating drug experimentation on the poor of Africa. Early in the film, without giving too much away, she is killed, along with her driver and partner, Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Kounde). Tessa's husband, Justin (Ralph Fiennes), is subsequently plunged into a world of trouble, as he goes on a relentless search to answer the unanswered questions surrounding her death. Questions that nobody seems to know, or want to answer.

As the dramatic thriller plays out, I began to notice a romantic layer which I found to be much more satisfying than the thriller. It is so deeply moving that it became the central part of the story to me. Justin discovers that the woman he thought he knew and loved, may not have been just what she said she was. As Justin searches for answers, he slowly starts to uncover knowledge as to what she was truly about. Through a combination of his current investigation, and flashbacks to memories of times with her, he grows more and more in love with her.

Amidst the gritty context of of illegal drug testing, murder of the poor, and countries where the law does not always mean the law, Justin puts himself in harm's way to complete what Tessa was working on, and to finally learn who she was. It is a tale of discovery beset by tragedy.

Justin is the constant gardener of the title. He is always distracting himself from outside issues by working on his garden, oblivious to what Tessa was really doing. In essence he was protecting himself from getting too involved with what he can't help, while she dove headlong into what she new she could help at the moment.

This film is told through some extraordinary performances, with characters who seem like real people in a real situation. Rather than characters as mere plot devices to get from one plot point to the next. Ralph Fiennes gives a moving portrayal of a man in the throes of discovery, of his wife and himself. The growth that he goes through from being the gardener to the lengths that he goes to for answers flow so naturally as to be completely believable. Rachel Weisz as Tessa is powerful, giving a portrayal of a woman determined to do the right thing and help those that she knows she can, while at the same time trying to protect her loved ones. The supporting cast is also filled fine performances from the likes of Herbert Kounde, Danny Huston, Pete Postlethwaite, and Bill Nighy.

The film was directed by Fernando Meirelles, his first English language film, and his first feature since the Oscar nominated 'City of God' in 2002. He has a kinetic style, relying on a lot of hand held camera work giving it an immediate documentary feel. It works well for the material, although I would have preferred a bit more traditional style for some of the quieter moments. The writing was handled by Jeffrey Caine, adapting the novel by John Le Carre. I have not read the book, but I have read that this is a faithful adaptation of the novel. Outside of that, the script is tightly written, everything is there for a reason and shouldn't be overlooked. Wonderful work all around.

I must make a comment about the ending, without spoiling it. It hit me like a ton of bricks. The build up felt so natural and real that the ending struck me as the only way they could end it. It was terribly moving and it will stay with you long after the credits finish rolling.

Bottomline. This is among the best films I have seen this year. It combines great writing, acting, and directing into a package which works on many levels and is satisfying on each one. This is one that is sure to be around come awards season.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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