Based on a novel by John le Carre, The Constant Gardener is a traditional mystery/thriller/love story,intensified by the contemporary edge of director Fernando Meirelles (City of God), helming his first English-language production. Enhanced by stunning cinematography (Cesar Charlone), the film is solidly grounded in a script by Jeffrey Caine that provides both propulsive narrative momentum and solid characterizations.
Diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) and his young, outspoken, political activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) are stationed in Kenya where her concerns with native poverty and the AIDS pandemic lead to some startling revelations about the practices of an avaricious and unscrupulous pharmaceutical company (redundancies, surely) engaged in inhumane, abusive practices.And, as is not unusual in a le Carre story, a jaded and amoral political establishment plays co-conspirator to corporate greed.
The film interweaves love story and political intrigue as Quayle delves into the mystery of what happened to his wife and what it was she had learned. Jumping back and forth in time, Caine’s screenplay is skillfully woven, gradually uncovering pieces of information that move the story forward with clarity and, step-by-step, reveal the complex collusion between political and corporate miscreants. At the same time, Quayle is faced with revelations about Tessa that stringently test his perception of their relationship.
Fiennes (Spider, The End of the Affair) and Weisz (Runaway Jury, Enemy at the Gates) bring warmly bubbling screen chemistry to the couple, a love that is perhaps an attraction of opposites on the surface, but a meeting of hearts and principles of integrity underneath. But it is Fiennes who gets to demonstrate the greater and more subtle range of emotion as he picks his way through clues that force constant shifts in his understanding of what happened and what that says of their marriage.
Meirelles offers handsome African landscapes, from natural geographic beauty to shantytowns bursting with color and vitality. In contrast, scenes in London and Berlin suggest cool European civility, laced with irony as underlying corruption is exposed. In African scenes he utilizes a nervous, handheld camera that captures the energy of these exotic locales; he also takes the time to let the camera linger on native faces. Meirelles’ evocative ability to create a sense of place, in both European and African locations, adds an integral cinematographic element to the skilled performances he draws from his cast and the solid storytelling at the heart of The Constant Gardener.