Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Hubert Koundé
Running time: 129 mins
Tessa Quayle (Weisz) is a strong-willed and passionate activist speaking out against the people of Africa being used as guinea pigs by a large pharmaceutical company testing for side effects in a new drug. When she is found murdered whilst working with her suspected lover (Kounde) on exposing the situation, her low-level British diplomat husband Justin (Fiennes) is determined to find a meaning to her death and sets off on a journey to discover the truth behind her theories and in doing so becomes far closer to her than he was in life.
Based on a novel by John Le Carré, the movie’s plot is unsurprisingly highly intricate and layered. Given the amount of material to deal with, City of God director Meirelles does extremely well in making the movie easy to follow with the faced-paced story keeping the audience on the edge of its seat from beginning to end. We are really made to feel a part of Quayle’s mission to solve the mystery of Tessa’s suspicious death, suspense building out as we are gradually fed more information on the conspiracy.
The film boasts some excellent performances. Fiennes portrays Quayle’s character very well – at first a passive diplomat showing little emotion for anything but his garden, then later shows the passion on his mission that had been lacking when his wife was alive. Meanwhile Weisz’s Tessa, despite having been killed off fairly early on in the movie, returns in a series of flashbacks and hallucinations and is played with such convincing conscience and honour that gives a constant reminder of the importance of her husband’s aim. Danny Huston makes a convincing smarmy diplomat, whilst Bill Nighy is equally effective in the powerful politician role as Pellegrin.
Although primarily a thriller, The Constant Gardener treats Kenya as far more than a backdrop to the story of the Quayles. Rather, it sometimes across comes across almost as a documentary. One scene shows a child being refused medicine for reasons incomprehensible to the diplomat, and another the poor treatment of a young mother by the medical services. Such scenes often bear far less relation to the plot than to an overriding message.
One of the best films of the year and far more exciting than its title might suggest, The Constant Gardener is an intelligent blend of an interesting story well told with some fine performances and cinematography, backed with some thought-provoking social conscience.