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Brandon Judell

The Constant Gardener: A Blooming Hit

What made Fernando Meirelles’s City of God so different from any other offering in 2003 was its vibrant colors, razor sharp editing, pulverizing soundtrack, ferocious energy, and its jolting ability to recreate life in the slum of slums of Rio de Janeiro. Sex. Murder. Robbery. Drugs. Hopelessness. They were all brutally depicted, creating a striking fusion of visual opulence and mental purgation.

Now in his first English-language endeavor, Meirelles has taken on what most would consider the most unlikely of literary sources for him, John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener. The corporeal collides with the cerebral, and the result surprisingly is the most satisfying adult-oriented, suspense-filled feature of the year.

The main locales traversed here are Nairobi and other sections of Kenya, and Meirelles and his brilliant cinematographer César Charlone do for Africa what they did for Brazil. They’ve captured the beauty of the nature, of the people, of their pain, and of their poverty.

But the heroes here are not rampaging youth. Instead, we have the sedate British diplomat Justin Quayle and his intense wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). As for the probable villain, it is an international drug company that is seemingly treating Kenyans benevolently, trying to cure their tuberculosis and AIDS. Tessa, though, has come across information about this operation that has the British government and others extremely anxious. Then she is shortly found brutally murdered. Is there a connection? Or were killers just a band of local marauding killers? The police even suggest Justin might be the culprit, hiring assassins because Tessa was said to be having an affair with a black compatriot of hers?

The resulting celluloid trek is a trim, invigorating collage of Justin’s search for answers to his wife’s demise along with his memories of his short, but loving marriage.

So why does it all work so well? Besides Meirelles’s impeccable direction and Jeffrey Caine’s discerning screenplay, there’s a cast that rises up to their level. Fiennes has seldom been better, but then has he ever been bad? He’s indeed our Montgomery Clift for this new millennium: sensitive, moral, and yet strong. Weisz, as Britain’s answer to Debra Winger, makes you understand why everyone is impassioned about her Tessa, and Danny Huston is splendid as a “trustworthy” governmental pal.

So if you adore having your mind functioning full speed in a movie theater, an experience not so common nowadays as it once was, sow some time with The Constant Gardener.

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenplay: Jeffrey Caine
Director of Photography: César Charlone
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Koundé, Danny Huston, Juliet Aubrey, Chris Payne

Copyright © Brandon Judell 2005

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