The Constant Gardener
Review by: Witney Seibold
Director Fernando Meirelles made one of the best films of the last five years with his epic crime flick City of God. It was his first feature. It had no stars and was made on a shoestring. It had a raw, immediate style that bordered on the documentary. It was full of harshness, important social observations about Brazilian politics, and genuine unsentimental human joy. His second film, The Constant Gardener, is not as good, but how could it be? This new film is a thriller based on the potboiler beach book by John Le Carré, and stars Ralph Fiennes, and the unfairly gorgeous Rachel Weisz tracking down an international conspiracy. It’s an odd marriage of minds.
Fiennes plays a British diplomat who’s job it is, it seems, to make apology speeches for his superiors when they make some brash international maneuver (Like, oh, say, Iraq). Weiss plays a plucky upstart reporter who has no qualms about shouting at injustices to whoever will listen, and mostly at those who won’t. They meet, shag, and are married. They go to Kenya where she begins to muck about with something about correcting an unknown injustice; she won’t tell her husband what she’s up to. When she is unexpectedly killed, it’s Ralph’s job to figure out what she was working on, and correct the injustice himself. He uncovers a plot about testing potentially harmful TB drugs on unwitting Africans; a concept lifted from real horrors in that country.
There’s nothing wrong with the story; it’s the film that The Interpreter only dreamt of being. And while the “message” at the end of the picture did thud down a little hard, it’s still a real issue in a real world that must be dealt with. The film is also gorgeously shot with ultraviolent colors and grainy photography. The biggest problem comes when one marries the style with the subject matter; Meirelles seemed to want to break out of the confines of the potboiler plot and make something more meaningful (perhaps even factual?). He’s more talented then this. This film is very good. But I wait with more anticipation of Meirelles’ next film.