film review ***1/2
‘The Constant Gardener’ Grows Towering Paranoia
By Yong-yi Zhu
The Constant Gardener
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Written by John Le Carr and Jeffrey Caine
Starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz
The Constant Gardener opens with a series of breathtaking images: a man standing at an airport, with the background fading to white; a violently overturned truck; a beautiful African beach with colors any artist would kill to paint. These vibrant scenes preview the rest of this brilliant film.
Ralph Fiennes plays Justin Quayle, a diplomat from England who moves to Africa with his wife Tessa (Rachael Weisz). How they meet, when they marry, and why they love each other are total mystery to the audience — Director Fernando Meirelles hides the details. We know only that they fell for each other quickly and deeply. The ambiguities not only create suspense, but allow our minds to imagine our own stories.
In Africa, while Justin perpetually tends to his garden to pass time, Tessa looks for ways to improve the natives’ lives. She genuinely cares about them and tries to spread knowledge about AIDS. Tessa suddenly runs into something strange that important people would rather she not know. She publishes a report on the dangers of a drug Dypraxin but is reprimanded by her government and told to keep quiet. She is eventually murdered for this discovery about the drug.
The centerpiece and the beginning of the film is Tessa’s death — even though her death occurs in the middle of the plot, it drives the movie from beginning to end. The focus on Tessa’s death, however, also serves as a roadmap to Justin’s heart.
Though this may appear to be a film about the drug companies taking advantage of Africans, it is in fact a story about what a man will do for a woman he loves with every ounce of his strength.
Fiennes gives a stunning performance in his slow and subtle transformation from a content and pragmatic diplomat to a crazed and desperate idealist. He begins with naivet and aloofness and later becomes more passionate towards other people. Yet, through the changes, he remains Justin Quayle to the audience.
Weisz not only makes Justin fall in love with her but the audience as well. She meets the challenge of portraying a focused, narrow-minded woman who also cares deeply about her husband and the world around her.
The film’s sets and images provide its most brilliant moments. The three images that open the film are followed by shots of African villages, towns and barren lands — Europe seems dull in contrast, and Meirelles does an excellent job depicting Africa.
If you want a smart film that’s not only well done but is also pleasing to watch, “The Constant Gardener” is a must. This can’t-miss film deserves every thumb you can raise.