How does it grow?
Constant Gardener brings together a world of politics, corruption, murder and love
In The Constant Gardener, the title character (Ralph Fiennes) is a British diplomat who loses his professional detachment in dramatic and romantic fashion. Fiennes delivers a characteristically delicate, sensitive performance in the part, but the film as a whole is something messier and more problematical than that.
Adapted from John LeCarrà's best-selling novel, the action revolves around Justin Quayle (Fiennes), but the tangled storyline wends its way through several interrelated territories of drama—political thriller, love story, social protest epic. Quayle’s diplomatic post puts him in an African hotspot, but his personal transformation comes via his marriage to a feisty political firebrand named Tessa (Rachel Weisz). The central drama begins, however, with her death in a mysterious shooting, and so The Constant Gardener is also a kind of murder mystery in which Quayle in effect becomes a detective/spy investigating several aspects of his own identity—his marriage, his profession, his nation’s politics.
The Fiennes-Weisz aspects of this are very deftly handled. Weisz smoothly offsets Fiennes’ trademark subtleties with charms and emotional ambiguities of her own. Neither character is wholly sympathetic, but both actors and director Fernando Meirelles succeed in making the paradoxes of the central romance both credible and engaging.
The thriller aspects are riveting as well, but on a much less interesting level. Meirelles’ slam-bang editing and chicly stylized visuals made more sense in the kid-gang context of his Brazilian-made City of God than they do here, and the action sequences have a mindlessly percussive quality that only serves to underline their generically routine nature.
Part of the film’s interest derives from its attention to contemporary world affairs. A caustic remark about the war in Iraq plays an early role in the love story, and the poverty and suffering of modern Africa—and the cruel exploitations of the international pharmaceutical industry—comprise the film’s central historical backdrop. The social protest and the love story are deeply intertwined, but the extent to which that may be another form of exploitation is never really resolved in the film.
A fine supporting cast includes Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite, both of whom are excellent as duplicitous Britons in positions of power. Hubert Koundà and Gerard McSorley make strong impressions as crucial players in the African settings, and Danny Huston is outstanding as the most convolutedly treacherous of Quayle’s friends and colleagues