on November 15, 2005
"The constant gardener" is an extremely good movie that could have been exceptional but somehow doesn't reach that point. All the same, I think it is the kind of film you will appreciate, specially if you enjoy a good thriller, great actors, and the opportunity to watch the beautiful African scenery.
The plot is based on a novel by John Le Carre, who said that "The constant gardener" is an excellent adaptation of his book of the same name, even though it is quite different from it. In my opinion, the director, Fernando Meirelles, should be recognized for doing an excellent job in what ended up being an outstanding (and thouroughly non-linear) film. Even though I didn't like this movie as much as I loved Meirelles' previous film, "City of God", it easy to see that he retains his gift for surprising the spectator, and treating him with scenes of astonishing beauty.
The plot is, in general, the same of the book. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), the main character, is an extremely polite English diplomat working in the British Embassy in Kenya. He who has only two passions in his life: gardening and his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). Tessa isn't overly conventional, and can be downright rude when she is defending one of her many causes, while Justin is taking care of his garden. Despite their differences, they complement each other. Justin, oblivious to the reality that surrounds him in Kenya, grounds himself in Tessa, and can't imagine his life without her.
Unfortunately, when some hired guns kill Tessa, Justin will have to learn if he will be able to live in a world without Tessa. His more immediate concern, however, is why was she killed. Justin's life is thrown into turmoil, and danger abounds, as he learns that Tessa was investigating the shady dealings of an important pharmaceutical company working in Kenya. But what did she discovered? Justin won't stop until he learns just that, finishing what his wife started.
On the whole, I think I can recommend this movie as high-quality entertainment, fast-paced enough to engage even those who don't like "slow" films. Heartily recommended!
Based on a novel by John Le Carre, this brand new film starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz just opened in theaters.
Fiennes is cast as a rather conventional British diplomat who falls in love with the fiery Rachel Weisz. In the first few minutes of the film they meet, mate, marry and go off to Africa where Fiennes is stationed.
He'd rather tend his garden and keep a blind eye to the truths around him. She adopts the humanitarian causes of the people and sometimes embarrasses Fiennes by telling off the stuffed shirt diplomats in his circle. He adores her though and their relationship is hot even though it seems as she and an African doctor are having an affair.
Everything is shattered when the African doctor and Rachel Weisz are brutally murdered. That's when mild-mannered Fiennes gets involved in the investigation. What he discovers is corruption at the highest level, involving big pharmaceutical companies who are using the Africans as guinea pigs to test new drugs. Fiennes' investigation leads to more and more discoveries. Eventually, his own life is in danger.
The acting is excellent and so is the cinematography. It really seemed to be the real Africa although the country remained unnamed. I do question the title because there was little about gardening in the film with the exception that it seemed that Fiennes would rather tend his garden than get involved in the horrible politics around him. Then, of course, he couldn't stop himself.
I enjoyed the film and especially like the fact that it addressed some real issues in the world today. It almost didn't matter that the details of the plot were a little confusing at times. I wish it grabbed my emotions more though. I know it was supposed to as it deals with the dire results of human greed and corruption.
on September 3, 2005
Justin Quayle, middle-level English bureaucrat (Ralph Fiennes, the perfect Le Carre' protagonist, circa 2005) is palpably appreciative when Tessa (Rachel Weisz, radiant, earth-motherly) deems to, really anoints him with, at the beginning of Fernando Meirelles' "The Constant Gardener," a hot session in bed. In fact, Quayle goes so far as to thank Tessa; which says more about Quayle's commitment to his Freesias, his backyard garden and his avoidance of really living than it does about Tessa's prowess in bed.
But that being said, the friction between the stiff-upper lip Quayle and the free-thinking, socially liberal and aware Tessa forms the backbone of Meirelles and Le Carre's outstanding film. Feinnes and Weisz's vibrant and provocative performances give this film a moral and intellectual as well as a human-level sensual and sexual center that binds the worlds of international diplomacy and social consciousness in a way that makes this film not only chock full of real-life ambiguity but also current and thought-provoking as well.
But then Justin is transferred to Africa and Tessa pleads with him to take her. And it is at this point that the movie changes tone from one of romance, lust and personal fulfillment to one of subterfuge on several levels: personal, governmental and that involving major drug companies using the medicine starved Africans as guinea pigs for their experimental drugs: many times to disastrous results.
Director Fernando Meirelles deserves a place in the pantheon of directors based solely on his revolutionary and disturbing "City of God" and here he boldly paints his canvas in broad strokes of saturated, gorgeous Technicolor for the scenes in Africa and solemn, dreary gray for the scenes in England and Europe: a little obvious maybe but effective nonetheless. Meirelles also becomes a little preachy towards the end of the film that I could have done without though I know that most people know nothing of what goes on generally in Africa and specifically in regards to the synergies between the African nations and the major drug companies.
Fernando Meirelles' "The Constant Gardener" is a terrific movie: breathtaking to look at, superbly acted by all but specifically by Feinnes, Weisz, Danny Huston and Bill Nighy. But it is not an easy movie to love for it wears its heart on its sleeve, at times pleading to us for understanding and compassion and Meirelles sometimes forgets that the best films show us...they do not tell us. Besides all this, there is undeniable power in the images presented and a formidable intellect to back them up and so we give in to it...allowing the exotic and rare perfume of Meirelles film to take us to a place we've never been before.
on September 2, 2006
This movie is a thought provoking exercise in conspiracy and reality drenched fiction. It is a story that could well have been headlines all over the world. The journey of an activist in Africa can easily be frought with danger. Exposing a far-reaching conspicacy that compromises public health is a powerful subject. One mans quest to uncover the truth and honor his dearly departed partner is a moving trip through the twists and turns of a complicated crime. The coverup is something that could easily happen in real life. It wouldn't be the first time that corporate greed compromised the public good. While there is heartfelt vindication in the movies conclusion it is still sad. There is no happy ending or lasting satisfaction. But it is a grim reminder that courage no matter how worthwhile can get you killed in the modern world. The value of human life is something that powerful people denigrate on a daily basis. It is hoepful that this movie will strike a chord in the minds of the public opinion. Question all motives at all times. Keep a vigil out for the sick and helpless. Sometimes a crisis in underdeveloped countries will go on festering for years. It is on our watch that people everywhere should have someone to count on when there is a crisis. The world owes those less fortunate to have a helping hand extended towards them. This one man teaches a lesson we should never forget. Always question those in power and hold them accountable. Activism is a altruistic crusade that is much needed and deeply appreciated. This movie makes you remember that and is must see viewing. It is a sad reminder of what can go wrong in the modern world. If only there was retribution more often in the real world. For those who live in well-developed countries they have much to be thankful for and much to be expected of them. Only when widespread disease and hunger are eradicated can we call this a civilized world. Always be suspicious of those that profit from the plight of the poor man. And never give up in the quest for truth and justice.
on November 26, 2006
Giant pharmaceutical companies come under scrutiny - some might say attack - in this fast moving political thriller based on the novel by John le Carre. I remember seeing a number of documentaries round about the time this movie was released in cinemas, that questioned the motives and methods of "Big Pharma", particularly in the way they work in third world countries. I remember one documentary in particular looking at one company that was testing drugs on children in northern Nigeria, usually the children of illiterate parents, by promising them cures and getting them to sign consent forms that they couldn't read. In that context, this movie seems to know exactly what it's talking about, hitting the nail squarely on the head.
The phenomenal "City of God" director Fernando Meirelles (who showed us the slums of Rio de Janeiro in a completely new light) brings his distinctive visual style to a very exciting story, filmed in Kenya, with twists and turns I could never have seen coming in a million years. Activist Tessa Quayle (played by Rachel Weisz) is murdered and her diplomat husband Justin (played by Ralph Fiennes), who up until that point seems rather hesitant when it came to local affairs, becomes suspicious that she was killed because of what she knew and what she could do with that information and becomes determined to get to the bottom of what led up to her getting killed. He gets right stuck in with no thought of risk to himself.
The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks and while it is said that le Carre novels are notoriously difficult to adapt, Meirelles handles the material superbly, knowing what subplots to keep and which to discard. Even so, it is not an easy plot to follow is not for the faint-hearted. It requires complete concentration but the final result is an edge of your seat thrill and I'm so glad I got this on DVD. I know I'm going to want to watch it again soon and again later. By the way, Weisz won a well-deserved supporting actress Oscar for her role in the movie.
The DVD extras offer you deleted scenes, extended scenes, a mini-documentary "Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya, another one called "John le Carre: From Page To The Screen, and Anatomy of A Global Thriller: Behind The Scenes of "The Constant Gardener".
on January 9, 2006
The first third of the movie focuses on the love story between Justin and Tessa with the political stuff in the background. Gradually, the focus changes and the political thriller takes over with the love story taking a back seat but Meirelles never loses sight of what motivates Justin's investigation and how this affects him.
Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz have great chemistry together and are very believable as a couple in the way they talk to each other and the intimacy between them feels very genuine. Fiennes turns in another excellent performance as a complacent diplomat whose world is turned upside down when he meets Tessa and this upheaval continues even after her death. The veteran actor conveys an emotional depth and vulnerability that makes us care about his plight. There is a scene where he learns of Tessa's death and it is a beautifully understated yet emotionally powerful one. Meirelles keeps the camera on Fiennes the entire time and we see disbelief and then grief wash over his face as he tries to keep it all contained. We empathize with his situation and want to see him expose the conspiracy that resulted in his wife's death.
The Constant Gardener shows the complex, political quagmire that exists in Africa. While its people starve and die from disease every day, their leaders get rich from deals with powerful corporations and American and British politicians. The film sheds light on the problems that plague Africa and why it is taking so long to help these people. It points the finger at the powerful pharmaceutical companies that charge these poor, third world countries outrageous prices and then take their sweet time sending much needed medicine to them. The Constant Gardener is a finely crafted political thriller that starts off as a character piece and then becomes an absorbing thriller that asks some tough questions about what exactly is going in Africa and what is happening to those people.
There are four deleted scenes totaling ten minutes that flesh out more details of the story and reveal more evidence of the conspiracy.
Also included is an "Extended Scene: Haruma - Play in Kenya" that features the entire outdoor morality play that was only featured briefly in the movie.
"Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya" examines what it was like to shoot in Africa in many of the places that Le Carre describes in his novel and this gives the film an authenticity. The film crew worked hard not to disrupt the peoples' lives there as much as possible.
"John Le Carre: From Page to Screen" takes a look at the source material - Le Carre's novel - and how it was adapted into a movie. Hollywood wasn't interested in it because it dealt with Africa and so it took a British movie producer who believed sincerely in the book to get it made with European money.
Finally, there is "Anatomy of a Global Thriller: Behind the Scenes of The Constant Gardener" which is a pretty standard, yet well made press kit that mixes clips from the film with soundbites from cast and crew.
on October 14, 2005
For years John le Carre has be turning out splendid spy novels, some better than others, but he can be counted on to hit on a plot line that draws us in and spins us around in an absorbing and entertaining way. I read the novel before seeing the film, and I'm glad I did: I highly recommend this order: book first, film second. What makes the movie so successful is that Meirelles lets the story tell itself without forcing it along. It is not strictly a linear approach, since there are a number of flashbacks, but I didn't feel any sense of contrivance on the part of the filmmaker.
Fiennes is solid as the title character, a Englishman thru and thru, more wedded to his plants and to his job as a mid-level diplomat than to his vibrant and headstrong young wife, played with great passion by Rachel Weisz, an actress with wonderful smarts ( we know that she's as clever as any man in the cast from the moment we hear her in conversation ).
Africa is a hotbed of conflict, whether it be the political turmoil in this country of that, or the rampant diseases that are ravaging families, or the famines that kill as many children as the epidemics, or the soulless profiteering by global consortiums. Le Carre uses the greed of a particular drug company and the victimization of hapless African TB sufferers as the springboard for his drama, and it makes for good cinema. We love the underdogs; we chafe at the way the Bad British Bureaucrats are covering up for the drug companies; we want justice, justice and more justice.
And, fortunately, Mierelles gives us realism, unapologetic and unsentimental. This is why the film succeeds. There are very few Rocky Balboas when it comes down to it.
Here's another highly praised film that left me, if not cold, at least not much more than tepid. Several flaws struck me.
First, I found the love story unconvincing, and once again, not about love at all. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz get together way too fast. Or it seems fast. The general chronologically fractured structure of this movie often leaves the viewer with no sense of how much time has elapsed. So it appears that one moment, Weisz is in Fiennes' classroom, flirting, asking to go along with him to Africa. And the next moment, there they are together, in the thick of Africa's medical dilemmas.
Or actually, the two are not really there together at all. Contrary to the great love story that many people claim to find in this film, I found only separate tables. Fiennes and Weisz seem to be pursuing different paths from the start. They don't confide in each other about certain dangers, presumably to "protect" each other. But their lack of communication more often seems to derive from actual hostility, which flares palpably on more than one occasion. So where is the great love story?
Then another flaw is that the movie once again conjures the corporate executive as nearly invincible boogieman. There is no nuance in the evil of these men. And once again, they are omniscient and omnipresent, capable of commanding the gruesome murder of anyone hundreds of miles away, who so much as whispers a thought that would reduce their profit margins.
Finally, gratuitous red herrings are cast into the mix. For example, there is the hospital scene where Weisz is shown holding a baby. That's misleading for no good reason.
This movie does give a strikingly different view of the African landscape though. It's not the usual landscape we see on nature specials, with a herd of giraffes loping in front of a beautiful sunset. And it's not the jungle that some Tarzan enthusiasts still equate with Africa. The area where this movie was shot is a vast, parched moonscape. Being projected onto this ground for just the hours of the movie gives the viewer a sense of searing dearth. Our teenagers, whose biggest problem is often choosing between a Gucci or a Pucci handbag, seem as if they are growing up not thousands, but millions of miles from the present African generation.
So the film does wake the viewer up to some harsh realities. But on the whole, the constant gardener has too many weeds growing in his plot.
on September 8, 2005
In a year full of bad movies that are made up of old TV shows, bad sequels, and really bad comedies, it's a real honor to have a film that does not pander to the lowest common denominator. Fernando Meirelles creates probably the best political thriller in the last ten years with Top notch performances by Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes that make the viewer not only be captivate by their characters and their tender love story but be outrage by the horrors and the corruption that surround them both. The Constant Gardner is a potboiler of suspends, intrigue and gritty drama rolled into a political thriller that is terrifyingly real. Weisz gives the performance of the year with a character that has so many sides to her that you really don't know what to expect Intl the climax of the film and Ralph Fiennes is mesmerizing as a man driven by grief and lust and a desire to find out the truth about the woman he loved and the people he thought he knew. This is smart filmmaking and Fernando Meirelles does the story and its actors justice with a gritty and beautiful portrayal of the African landscape that exposes its beauty and horrors all at once.
Its good to be treated with some respect and this film does it by treating you with a smart and captivating story that will stay with you for some time to come.
on August 10, 2006
Lots of negative criticism has been generated about this movie. About the politics, about the story, about the way they play with time and flashbacks. It all maybe true, but it is still one of the most beautiful and intelligent movies out there.
It starts by doing something not many movies are able to do, that is best their literary origin; "the Constar Gardener" film is much better than TCG book. And that is a lot to say John LeCarre being the author.
Fernando Meirelles the director fills the screen with astounding visuals, that jump out of the screen and hit you in the face like saying "keep looking, do not miss a beat". And what to say of the acting, Fiennes, Weist and all the supporting cast are at their best, conveying emotion right thru your heart.
One of the best examples of great moviemaking in recent years. If you can look over politics and such you deserve to enjoy this movie.