CONSTANT GARDENER (director: Fernando Meirelles; screenwriters: from the book by John Le Carré/Jeffrey Caine; cinematographer: Cesar Charlone; editor: Claire Simpson; music: Alberto Iglesias; cast: Ralph Fiennes (Justin Quayle), Rachel Weisz (Tessa), Danny Huston (Sandy Danny Huston telegraphs the sinister character of Quayle’s colleague Sandy Woodrow), Bill Nighy (Sir Bernard Pellegrin), Pete Postlethwaite (Marcus Lorbeer), Gerard McSorley (Sir Kenneth Curtiss), Hubert Koundé (Arnold Bluhm), Richard McCabe (Ham); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Simon Channing Williams; Focus Features; 2005-USA/UK)
“Solid old-fashioned thriller that is a murder mystery, a love story and a social conscious tale all rolled into one.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Fernando Meirelles’ (“City of God”) solid old-fashioned thriller that is a murder mystery, a love story and a social conscious tale all rolled into one; it’s based on the novel by John Le Carré and the taut script is by Jeffrey Caine. Ralph Fiennes excels as the middle-aged mild-mannered low-level British High Commission diplomat to Kenya, Justin Quayle, who undergoes a personality change to become more assertive when he discovers his much junior radicalized activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) has been brutally murdered while making waves against a vast international Big Pharma conspiracy. She is trying to get proof that British higher-ups in the government, such as Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy), are in cahoots with a giant pharmaceutical company (the fictional KDH) to use needy Africans as unwitting guinea pigs for drug experiments that are known to cause deadly toxic side effects. The genteel Justin is a complacent but decent man, who prefers tending his garden than dealing with the ticklish political issues that show he’s operating for bosses who are asking him to cover up their questionable policies and if he doesn’t play ball his comfortable life and career could be derailed. Justin’s physically taken with his opposite personality wife, but is overwhelmed by her aggressive behavior and her larger than life appetites. Nevertheless he has fallen madly in love with her, and throws caution to the wind to keep her love enshrined in his memory when she’s slain. Living with her ghost, he shuns his career to track down her killers and travels to London, Amsterdam and Nairobi at his own peril to follow the political conspiracy trail. Justin ultimately risks his life to uncover the secrets about his wife’s murder, but is seen not as an action hero but someone who has matured to become a better person (as if that is taught in western schools as one of the worthy aims to come out of life!).
Other cast members who excel are Danny Huston as Quayle’s menacing immediate superior colleague Sandy Woodrow; a third act appearance by Pete Postlethwaite as a mysterious doctor in East Africa, who reminds us “Big pharma — they’re as bad as the arms dealers!”; and Hubert Koundé as Dr. Arnold Bluhm–the friend of Tessa and someone gossips maliciously say is her lover. Talented cinematographer Cesar Charlone makes both Africa and the loving couple colorful and intriguing.
It’s a welcome change that a movie decided to tell it like it is about the evil pharmaceutical industry—whose enormous profits routinely leave it in first place among American industries, while its greedy unethical practices spread suffering throughout both third world countries and the wealthy ones. They deserve to be damned for all the harm they do to those who need the most help, and this film is probably only a tame look at the way they do business but it’s a sharply observed one. It successfully navigates the waters between investigative journalism, preaching to the choir and drama, leaving behind much that’s romantically and politically haunting and well worth being hip about.
REVIEWED ON 9/1/2005 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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