"The Constant Gardener", a filmed adaptation
of John Le Carré's novel, is good in many areas, and at times
genuinely affecting...but something's missing, and even a day later,
I can't figure out what that something is.
Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz, who seems more
amazing every year) is the
Guerin" of the story, the protagonist bent on giving the world
the truth regarding a new drug meant to treat tuberculosis while she
is spending time in Africa sometime in The Recent Past. Tessa
got to Africa in the first place by tagging along with her husband,
a British diplomat named Justin (Ralph Fiennes), who is a bit of the
naive sort and someone who just loves watering his plants.
When the film opens, Tessa is already dead--the victim of a horrific
attack on her Range Rover thanks to rebels who may or may not have
been working with a third party. We bounce back and forth
between Tessa and Justin's initial meeting, their love affair, their
work in Africa and Tessa's friendship/work relationship with Arnold
Bluhm (Hubert Koundé), another rabblerouser that shares many of
Tessa's sentiments with regards to health care and the human
condition in Africa.
Now, about halfway through the film, we
catch up with the past to put us squarely in the middle of why Tessa
was murdered, and so the second half of the action pits us with
Justin and his struggle to learn why all of this went down.
All throughout "The Constant Gardener" the filmmaking is quite
strong; directed by "City of God"
helmer Fernando Meirelles, this flick has many quiet moments of
power, thanks to the sight of hundreds of Africans just going about
their business, or aerial shots of African countrysides, or Fiennes
doing what he does best (act his slimmy white ASS off), playing the
firm-yet-feeble Justin with a ton of vulnerability mixed with the
tunnelvision follow-through necessary to complete his investigation.
Every single performance gives you a little somethin'-somethin';
whether it is Bill Nighy (who I loved in
as a dirty politician or Danny Huston as Justin's lawyer Sandy--hammin'
it up while also being slightly dirty--the roles are written well
and the acting is there to back it all up.
But then, I thought, "Back all of what
up?" See, "The Constant Gardener" is a tough one because it is
technically brilliant; it is very artsy, it features a well-written
plot, it is performed without flaw. In fact, upon leaving the
theater, both my buddy Yac and I thought the movie was good, and we
heard others murmur similar thoughts, or like one guy that walked
out in front of me said, "Yeah, you know, it was DONE really well."
I think people had these thoughts and not ones of higher glory
because of two things, two things that bring the movie out of
Opening Weekend territory and down a notch:
-->The conspiracy theory. In
real life, I like conspiracy theories, usually because I didn't come
up with them and they are interesting to learn about in terms of why
someone based them in fact. (Current favorite: someone at work
read a story about how white people intentionally let the levies
break in historically-black areas of New Orleans during Katrina.
Can't explain it, but makes for fun watercooler discussion.)
But, in a movie like "The Constant Gardener", you are hoping for
something more original than Pharmaceutical Companies Are Out to
Rule the World. See, I think that pharma firms ARE about to
take over the world, and any sane man that looks at the price of
drugs and health care in this country and many others will say the
same thing. As such, I found myself oddly unattached to the
emotional level with which movie-Justin fights back against the
people responsible for Tessa's murder. How to correct this:
maybe make the killers less of a conglomerate, with similar evil
thoughts but a more down-to-earth face? I don't know, but
Pharma Man Corporate Domination wasn't working.
-->Tessa. Weisz is so good that
you almost forget how many times you have seen this character or
some shade of this character, so at least they pull out the suspense
by killing her off right away. But even after her death, I
didn't feel all that bad that she got it the way she did; I did feel
bad that all of the people in the film that were supposedly trying
to help Tessa achieve her goals hosed her, which I saw coming all
along and made her early-in-the-movie death that much more useless.
Here's where making your lead character a true martyr helps--when
you get the sense that people really would go to bat for your lead
activist, the audience is more likely to feel for the struggle of
the widowed husband as he tries to track down her killer. Hey,
that's just what I would have done.
Now, these minor issues I have don't ruin
the movie experience...they just explain why it is that this film is
getting such good reviews but why it didn't resonate with my soul
the way that it would have if just a couple of changes had been
made. "The Constant Gardener" is certainly worth seeing on the
big screen and will certainly be a contender come awards season, but
I just wish it had that je ne sais quoi that lifts certain
films into legendary status.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard