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The Constant Gardener

4

The world is a cold, cruel and evil place. Corruption is endemic, multinationals collude with governments and bureaucrats cover up the fall-out. Pharmaceutical giants test unsafe drugs on the poor, threatening and murdering anyone who tries to expose their nefarious double-dealings. And a diffident British diplomat and his firebrand activist wife have as much chance against them as Goliath did against David...

Welcome to The Constant Gardener, a complex political thriller that sports its earnest integrity and righteous fury like badges of honour. You have to go back to Defence Of The Realm and the BBC's Edge Of Darkness in the mid-'80s to find a homegrown drama so eager to grapple with contemporary issues and Britain's complicit role in propagating injustice outside its borders. And while poverty and exploitation in central Africa might not seem the makings of a great night in, it's a tribute to producer Simon Channing-Williams and City Of God director Fernando Meirelles that their tense and moving adap of John Le Carré's bestseller does not become a maudlin wallow in Third World misery.

For that, thank Ralph Fiennes and particularly Rachel Weisz, who lend their romance an affecting intimacy and tragic resonance that's only heightened by her mysterious death at the start of the film. Related in flashback, their history unfolds in tandem with Fiennes' dogged attempts to learn how she met her end, a quest that brings him into mortal conflict with Bill Nighy's lethally charming Whitehall mandarin and a host of other shady scumbags. What follows occasionally steers the movie dangerously close to agitprop, writer Jeffrey Caine reducing some characters to Oxfam stat-spouting mouthpieces. Meirelles, though, never loses sight of the emotional core of his narrative, ensuring his plot is always rooted in the heartfelt poignancy of a bereft husband's pain, rage and bewilderment.

The conspiracy becomes less confusing on the DVD thanks to a deleted scene that sees Fiennes travel to Canada to coax some vital info out of a drug-company whistle-blower (a character cut from the theatrical release). The others are less informative but do at least contain more of the local colour that gives the picture such a vibrant, authentic texture. Indeed, of the three mini-docs that accompany the feature, the most revealing is the one detailing the logistics of shooting such an ambitious project in Kenya's teeming slums and unforgiving deserts.

Le Carré fans will appreciate his thoughtful survey of how his novel was handled in the From Page To The Screen featurette, while Meirelles' Harry Potter specs lend his 10-to-the-dozen observations in the Making Of an unintentional note of comedy.

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