Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Extended Scene, Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya, John Le Carre: From the Page to the Screen, Anatomy of a Global Thriller: Behind the Scenes
Length: 2 hours 9 minutes
The Constant Gardener, one of the most riveting films of 2005 and nominated for four Academy Awards, is a thoroughly engaging, absorbing thriller and mystery as well as a poignant love story. Brilliantly directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God), The Constant Gardener quickly brings us under its spell, weaving with increasing complexity and dramatic tension a socially relevant film experience. The story concerns the growing power of the phamaceutical industry and the faking of clinical trials in Africa with the use of the African people as guinea pigs.
Based on the novel by John Le Carre, this is a David and Goliath tale, unrelentingly real in its portrayal of selflessness in the face of tremendous odds. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a minor career British diplomat in Kenya, newly married to Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz), who is his opposite in disposition. He is reticent, safe, measured and more interested in tending his garden than his career. She is impassioned, bold, idealistic. Right away we learn Tessa has been murdered. As Justin seeks answers, he gradually rises to the level of involvement that resulted in Tessa’s murder. It is most gratifying to watch him evolve to her level of caring and compassion and willingness to become one of those rare individuals who risk their lives for the well being of others.
The revelation of details, the unraveling of the mystery concerning the use of innocent people on a giant scale in the service of corporate greed and corrupt government, is stunningly told with superb acting and direction. The plot is fast-paced and the screenplay utterly real. The original music (Alberto Iglesias) in combination with native African music works perfectly.
The settings vary from London to Germany to mostly Kenya with the use of brilliant colors, light and composition creating impressive cinematography. Odd-angle closeups and hand-held camerawork contrast strongly with the striking natural rugged landscapes of Kenya. The filmmakers’ original plan was to only visit Kenya to see where much of the story took place, then move on to South Africa to actually film, but they found the landscapes so compelling and the people so welcoming that they stayed and filmed there. [I can’t imagine having to watch the pan-and-scan DVD version released at the same time – half the beauty of the cinematography and excellent transfer would be missed!…Ed.]
The extras are each about ten minutes in length and well worth watching subsequent to viewing the film. Interviews with the filmmakers and actors and John Le Carre provide some excellent background. The extended scene is a play in Kibera called “Haruma” about the need for acceptance and understanding in regard to AIDS. The film was made in real places in Nairobi and other areas of Kenya where the book was set. The Brazilian director Meirelles found the slum Kibera to be even poorer than the favelas of Rio. Those involved became committed to helping the poor of Kibera, hiring 2000 native people during the film and setting up a charity after their departure. Efforts were made to be sensitive to the needs of the communities during filming.
In an interview with John le Carre, the writer remarks “There’s hardly a scene or a line coming from my novel but yet I don’ t know of a better translation from novel to film.” The Constant Gardener is well worth seeing more than once. I will certainly never forget it.