The Constant Gardener Review
Love. At any cost.
Justin Quayle (Fiennes) is a diplomat who is on the hunt for his wife Tessa's (Weisz) murderer, but during this investigation he uncovers a treacherous conspiracy that will destroy millions innocent lives, unless he can reveal its sinister roots. His journey will take him across 2 continents in his struggle to find the truth and unveil the conspirators.
Brief synopsis, I know, but with all thrillers sometimes it's best to go in knowing little to get the most out of them. Having only heard about this movie in rave reviews, I went in completely oblivious wondering what on earth a movie about a gardener, who gardens constantly, could possibly be about. Well, Quayle is a diplomat who just happens to have a hobby of gardening which the movie does show you extensively, but that really has nothing to do with the plot. The movie is shown in flashback form - we open on Tessa leaving Justin at the airport, then we see a turned over jeep with various voices in the background. We then cut back to Justin being informed of her death, then jump back to when they first met. All of this is within 10 minutes of the start of the movie and there's no real let up of these flashbacks, which to be honest I can understand why some people may well turn the movie off because, although it does keep your interest in a kind of “Eh?” way, it's also quite disorienting to be led through a story that jumps about in this manner so frequently. Don't get me wrong, I've no issues with non linear story telling, but this does ricochet around more than say Eternal Sunshine or Memento, which may alienate some viewers. Mind you, the text on the cover doesn't help it much when a critic for The New York Observer called it “A First-Rate Spy Game”. Yeah, there's spy's-a-go-go to be seen here. Not, as Wayne or Garth may say. This isn't a story about espionage, in fact it has more in common with “The Insider” than any Spy movie, or indeed it's more in line with many political thrillers from The Manchurian Candidate to The Interpreter. The whole concept of the movie is power and corruption and how it affects others in less fortunate circumstances. It highlights as well, rather splendidly, how people of the third world live day to day, without resorting to shock tactics or condescending commercials. I wouldn't really expect any less though from Fernando Meirelles, the director of “City of God”, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for best director.
The movie has a similar look and style to the aforementioned movie, with stark contrasts - Kenya being highly colourful, yet when London is depicted, it's very cold and grey (which is absolutely spot on, if you think about it). In fact, I found it very interesting from a cinematography point of view, with some absolutely wonderful scenes of Africa. Acting wise, well Ralph Fiennes is suitably superb, conveying some excellent expression of emotions - consider the scene on the gold course when Kenny Curtis refers to his wife indirectly as a “bitch”, you can see the anger in his eyes even if his composure still remains calm and very British if you will. Weisz is superb also, with a tenacious character, which is revealed to us slowly during the flashbacks. We get to understand her and through her eyes, we build up sympathy for the plight of the people she's trying to save. In fact, I'd agree with another review I'd seen that almost makes you wonder how you could help, without either being preachy or asking for your money ala the commercials. We also have an excellent supporting cast including Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite, which also keeps up with the rather British feel - hardly surprising as it is a UK film with the feel of a Hollywood movie, without a single American actor required to make the USA watch it (Four Weddings? Notting Hill?).
But when all is said and done, is it any good? Well, I've got mixed feelings about it. I feel that there's nothing wrong with the acting, the storyline or the direction, but the hyperkinetic use of flashbacks could be unsettling to some viewers. Bear with it and I think you'll find it rewarding, but if a thriller akin to “The Insider” isn't your thing, you really won't like this.