The Constant Gardener

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The Constant Gardener
Review (8/10)
(By Alex Riviello)

The Constant Gardener is the latest movie by Fernando Meirelles, the acclaimed director of City of God. I haven't seen City of God yet, but judging from what most people tell me it was a fantastic movie - that Meirelles has an amazing eye for capturing beauty in slums and poverty. Well, based on his latest film, I'd have to say they're right.

The story begins with a man, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), learning about the death of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). She was viciously murdered, an apparent crime of passion. Insecure as he was about his wife, he chooses to find out what really happened, who she was really dealing with and just how faithful she really was to him. In doing this he uncovers a vast conspiracy involving major drug companies and the poor people of Kenya. Justin's a diplomat there, and has been there for years, having taken his young bride-to-be out to the harsh country to live.

Right from the start, there are flashbacks to Justin's former life. He met his wife at a lecture he was giving. They had a instant connection (he liked that she was outspoken even if it wasn't the most popular thing to do) and things moved fast. You can see that this is not a man who takes chances...a man who keeps his emotions in check. Even when he is not sure about his wife's actions, he holds it all in. This is some fantastic work by Fiennes, who shows the man as he finally breaks and becomes a man determined to find out what happened to the woman he loved. Definitely one of his best performances, and Rachel Weisz surprised the hell out of me, because having only seen her in the Mummy movies you wouldn't think she had it in her for a serious role... Fortunately she does.

The Constant Gardener is really two movies. The first is the story of a man falling in love for the first time, with all of the doubt, jealousy and fear that goes into truly accepting someone into your life. It's a tragedy in that he only truly loves her when she's gone forever and he can't do anything about it. The second part is a detective story in which Justin tries to get to the bottom of what's going on. There are some pretty disgusting things happening - involving human testing on the poor in Kenya. (Which is allegedly true to life.) The two parts work together pretty well. It does feel a little disjoined though, and it would have probably been better served if the flashback was interspersed throughout the whole movie, instead of just being at the beginning. The end slows down and you forget about why this man became so obsessed with what he's doing. That could be the point, but it doesn't completely succeed.

The film is beautiful, there's no doubt about that. Fernando Meirelles manages to make the most poverty stricken areas a place you'd want to visit. In an alternate universe, Meirelles made millions as a travel agent. There are lots of sweeping shots of the countryside, children playing and laughing, people milling around looking happy in a place that's one of the poorest in the world. It's pretty inspiring, actually.

The Constant Gardener is worth a look, if only to shed some light on real things that are happening in the world. I now have no reason for not seeing Fernando Meirelles' older work. He's one to watch out for. This isn't going to be a huge movie...it's not going to have the underground following of City of God...and the way they're marketing it is confusing me. But you could do worse than check it out this weekend.

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