18 March, 2009
The Constant Gardener (2005)
Raking up trouble
This is one I re-watched by accident the other night (and by ‘accident’ I mean that I was too lazy even to change the channel so saw it through to the end). A horrifying movie - in the truest sense of the word - it’s nonetheless a compelling and enlightening view.
With a cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Pete Postlethwaite and Bill Nighy to name but four, this could have so easily been a complete luvvie-fest, devoid of any sentiment or narrative. Not so, luckily. Bolstered by some very accomplished direction by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles (Cidada de Deus (City of God) (2002)), and written for the screen in collaboration with the original author (John le Carré), this is a fully rounded story with a lot to say, and it’s very well played by all concerned.
Something else that sets the film apart is the very tight and well-paced score by Alberto Iglesias. Kind of low-fi electro music, which, to be honest, I would have thought incongruous if I hadn’t seen for myself how well it sat in the frame of the movie. It’s fair to say that it’s a testament to how important the music is when you don’t actually hear it most of the time. It’s set so well that it becomes a part of the film, rather than an ‘add-on’.
The story is told in a non-linear format, but that really isn’t anything to worry about. I am well-known for my limited attention span, and I kept up - so I reckon you’ll be OK. The quiet and patient Justin Quayle (Fiennes) is a diplomat working for the British Embassy in Kenya. His pregnant wife Tessa (Weisz) is about as far removed from the ‘trailing wife’ as it’s possible to be. Tessa has her work to do as well - only hers just happens to involve investigating global phamaceutical companies and their crimes against the Kenyan people. Justin knows something is going on, and when Tessa starts spending a lot of time with a colleague, Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé), fears the worst. The thing he fears would turn out to be a blessing in his case - if only things were that simple.
Tess loses her baby and throws herself into her work. She spends one night in a hotel with Dr Bluhm, and then he disappears, then she is found brutally murdered. Once the truth about Tess’s life comes out, Justin is shocked and outraged. He vows to continue her investigations, even though he is warned off by his diplomatic collagues. He knows there is a very real danger he could end up in the same situation as her very quickly, messing as he is with power, corruption and greed.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate Fiennes a lot more. His ability to play a variety of roles has impressed me greatly - it only took me about two minutes to forget that he wasn’t Harry Waters from In Bruges (2008) any more.
Weisz, in turn, is also very good and richly deserved the Oscar she won for her ’supporting’ role.
The film is a slow burn, in that you’re not force-fed all the details straight off the bat, they are left to slowly drip in. It’s a spy thriller of sorts, but you already know who the bad guy is (well, probably). Although the events are based on truth and “any resemblance to persons living or dead…blah blah blah” you can tell that the sort of thing being discussed in the movie is really going on every day in Africa.
If you’re a fan of a good car chase or a punch-up, I really wouldn’t bother with this. If, however, you like a carefully constructed script, some fine camera work and top-notch performances - and a hard-hitting story line to boot, you should probably consider giving this a go, if you haven’t already.
Awards: Click here for details.
129 mins. In English, Italian, Swahili and German.