Wednesday, August 31, 2005

review - The Constant Gardener

3.5 /5

The theatre was packed tonight, a Wednesday night, for what looked like a film that promised relief from the stream of duds and shallow movies as of late.

Ralf Fiennes plays Brit diplomat Justin Quayle, on location in Kenya. His wife, 24 year-old Tessa (34 year-old Rachel Weisz) , tags along with handsome Dr. Arnold Bluhm as he visits the villages, dishing out medical aid. Tessa is a committed social activist, critical of conglomerates who hand out free medicine, etc., and pieces together her observations with the Dr. to come up with a conspiracy theory that she submits to a respected higher up in the British High Commission. Of course, big trouble later ensues.

Shot in flash backs, the film is about Justin's one-man investigation of his wife's murder and the greedy players in the busines and political world who promise to profit enormously from the shady pharmaceutical industry's practices.

Some of camera work was disorienteering, as it is shot with a shaky hand-held camera. Some of the footage seems pointless. What's the point of having the scene with the bandits raiding the remote village? It's a bit disturbing to see the fleeing villagers being chased, shot or captured, while the huts burn to the ground. With a couple of scenes, you really get a sense of how little life is regarded over there as compared to the first world.

The main problem with this film is that it felt so unfocused. It's too long and drawn out. It's not a clear, succinct thriller. The sound in some of the room scenes is full of echoes. If you thought this was going to be anything like The English Patient, which also starred Ralf Fiennes, you will be surprised. The romance is played up but this is not a romance film. Fiennes, who is usually reserved in his roles, is surprisingly smiley with some boyish charm. Overall, the acting was quite solid.

It's based on a book by celebrated spy novelist John le Carré and directed by Fernando Meirelles, who was nominated for an Oscar for City of God. One of the best scenes is saved for last when Tessa'a lawyer steps up to give a eulogy at the church.

The Constant Gardener falls short of being one of the year's best films. It's not as good as The Hotel Rwanda but it strives to be above most of the cookie cutter releases and it somewhat succeeds on that count.

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