The Constant Gardener: A brutally educational and moving story

Film Review by Krupa Patel

Thursday, 11, 2006
English 302N12

The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles, with its screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John LeCarre, is a compelling film about science and politics. Shot in northern Kenya, the film quickly emphasizes the beauty of the land and people that inhabit it. The film's political perspective is effectively conveyed, but the demonstration of its non-fiction basis (laid out beautifully in the novel) is lost amid the need to tell a story, present fascinating characters, and provide action.

Tessa Quayle (played by Rachel Weisz), an activist, is brutally murdered shortly after the film begins. Eager to uncover his wife's murderer and skeptical of the rumors of her apparent affair, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) , embarks on an arduous journey to find justice and truth of love. He uses his power to gain access to diplomatic secrets, in turn, risking his life until he unearths the truth. He quickly learns that his wife died trying to expose a conspiracy and attempts to finish what she started.

The film uses flashbacks to show Tessa and Justin meet, fall in love, and marry. Soon after moving to work in Africa, it is evident to see that Tessa spends much of her time quietly working alongside her friend, Arnold Bluhm (played by Hubert Kounde). There are many scenes in which she neglects to express her true intentions to anyone, let alone her husband. These scenes appear repeatedly, showing her and Arnold sneaking of to various places, sparking rumors of an affair between the two.

Tessa's character in the film is that of a young, naive, and aggressive woman. Justin is older, quieter, and cautious to a fault; he is passive and allows Tessa to exclude him from what she is doing. The film places less emphasis on the tremendous love between Tessa and Justin that is found in the novel, and actually makes the viewer question her motives behind marrying Justin. It seems as if Tessa married Justin strictly for the diplomatic advantages he could offer, such as the opportunity to work in Africa. In the book it's clear he replaced her fault-finding father, and she provided him with warmth, an aptness for happiness, and needed companionship

Justin's passive nature and laid back personality is a strength as well as weakness. Before Tessa's murder, he gave her freedom to pursue her goals. He trusts her. She finds out a good deal that needs telling in public. But he does not question what will be the result of her actions and the audience feels he is inexplicably oblivious not only to her but what is happening politically in Africa.. After her murder however, due to his submissive attitude, many of his colleagues-turned-enemies, did not think he would act to seek what had happened nor attempt any kind of redress. This allowed him to gain information, which led into a fatal chase between him, his treacherous colleagues, and the brutal thugs hired by the pharmaceutical company..

Since little time was spent in explaining Tessa and Justin's relationship as it was explaining the political situation, neither are developed fully. The relationship of the Justin and Tessa in the novel lacks the passion and substance of their relationship in the novel. The intentions of the pharmaceutical companies seem unethical on many levels, but in the film little time is spent describing the history behind these corrupt corporations, which would lead to a better understanding of their motives.

The pace of the film is an awkward one, at times progressing slowly and at other times, moving too quickly. Without the help of Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes, the film would have lacked much needed information. The acting provided by the two was exceptional. It helped capture and retain the essence of love that would have otherwise been lost during an intricate plot. Also the use of lighting and color enhances the recognition of the much deserved beauty of Africa, and the stunning beauty of the place (and desperate poverty and misery of the people) are memorably etched on the viewer's mind's eye.

So nonetheless or despite the lack of background information, the story is brutally educational, while remaining moving. The amoral testing of ordinary people for dugs that occurs in countries outside of the U.S. and the cunning tactics used in doing so are depicted accurately if briefly in the film. The Constant Gardener proves to be an emotionally engrossing film that speaks volumes about love and a war for money and the luxuries it brings in the unqualified and uncontrolled global capitalism of interlocking communities across continents today.

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated: 4 June 2006.