A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
Running Time: 2 hrs. 09 min.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violent images and sexual content/nudity.
When a British diplomat's wife -- a socially-conscious
lawyer -- turns up dead in Kenya, he sets out to find the truth
surrounding her murder. In the process, he finds out that his
wife had been compiling data against a multinational drug company
that uses helpless Africans as guinea pigs to test a tuberculosis
remedy with unfortunately fatal side effects. Therefore those
who may have had the most reason to silence her are closer to
home than he ever imagined.
The Constant Gardener is
the best dramatic film
to be released so far this year.
me begin by saying that The Constant Gardener is
an excellent movie that I highly recommend. It has passion, suspense,
soul, and conscience. What more could you want?
Based on a novel by John Le Carre and directed
by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles , The Constant Gardener tells
the story of Justin Quayle, a middle level British diplomat (Ralph
Fiennes, in one of his best performances) in Kenya. As the film
opens, Justin is meticulously tending his garden. One of his colleagues
arrives to tell him that there was a jeep accident on a deserted
country and a badly burned body was found. They think it could
be his wife, Tessa (played with passion and mystery by Rachel
Weisz). Justin and his colleague go to the morgue to identify
the body, which sadly, is confirmed to be Tessa. Fiennes is incredible
in these early scenes of properly controlled grief and shock.
The movie then flashes back a lecture hall in London
where Justin and Tessa met. Justin is delivering a paper on foreign
policy and the fiery Tessa challenges him strongly. Mild mannered
Justin is attracted to the passionate Tessa. Before you know it,
they fall in love. Justin is preparing to return to Kenya and
Tessa is very eager to accompany him. So they decide to marry
so the two can go together.
After her death, Justin wonders what Tessa has
been up to all along. Did she simply use him and their marriage
to gain access to Africa where she could pursue her passionate,
and controversial, humanitarian concerns? Was he betrayed by her?
Was her death really an accident? As the mystery unfolds, Justin
is transformed from the mild-mannered diplomat, never wanting
to rock the boat, to a courageous seeker of truth, even to the
point of risking his own life. It’s a great role, and a
tour de force for Fiennes.
The Constant Gardener is highly critical of British
policy in Africa. A major plot development involves the collusion
between the government and a pharmaceutical company using Africans
as research subjects. Even though the context is the policy and
racial attitudes of the British, there are certainly parallels
To say much more would be to spoil the pleasure
of watching the mystery unfold. Suffice it to say that I see The
Constant Gardener to be a good companion piece to Hotel Rwanda.
They are very different movies, but, at the heart of both is a
severe critique of Western attitudes toward Africa, and how they
contribute to the poverty and death in that continent.
Constant Gardener is also a fiercely passionate
movie. The sexual scenes between Justin and Tessa are highly charged..
The passion is sexual, but it’s also a passion for truth
and justice. This is one of the reasons the movie stands out among
the standard Hollywood romance.
Along with Crash, The Constant Gardener is the best dramatic film
to be released so far this year. I’m happy to know that
Crash found an audience in the theaters earlier this summer, and
is now available on DVD for more to see. I hope that The Constant
Gardener concludes the summer season by finding its audience too,
now, and on DVD in a few months. These two films give me hope
that there will be more passionate, substantial movies ahead.
Tom Condon, O.P.