John le Carrés novel, The Constant Gardener, seems to have been written (and now as a movie) with the purpose of serving as a template for what has become apparent since the novels publication in 2001 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq.
That marvelous old spy comes out of the cold and heads for the heat of remote Kenya to tell the contemporary tale of a docile but intelligent English diplomat who, much like Dustin Hoffmans David Sumner in "Straw Dogs," reveals his mettle to a larger and darker force than his gentle mind could ever imagine. (A toast to Sam Peckinpah might be in order here.)
Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles ("City of God") now brings le Carrés latest to the screen much intact, if with way too much MTV editing and palsied cinematography. Otherwise, Meirelles has got a compelling film that may fall into a niche not unlike that which "The English Patient" resides. "Gardener," I hasten to add, though, is much more on the edge and is about Now, not prior to and during WWII. We also get to see Ralph Fiennes face as it really is throughout the picture.
Justin Quayle (Fiennes) epitomizes an English gentleman in the service of his queen. His wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is Quayles one-eighty: a furious, vigorous social activist; an irrepressibly beautiful, acerbic speaker of truth to power. (Yes, shes a vociferous bleeding-heart liberal. Neo-cons may wish to buy a ticket for "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" or check out those Dudes from County Hazzard.)
Unlike "Million Dollar Baby" (reviewed on this site by Chew), its okay to know that the heroine dies in "The Constant Gardener." In fact, she dies at the beginning of the film, but theres lots of her in flashback as her widower seeks the truth of her brutal rape and murder and the truth of an awful government/corporate conspiracy having to do with drugs that arent purchased on urban street corners.
Theres also a layer of alleged infidelity on the part of Tessa which Justin must deal with as he peels back the other layers about whats going on with his government and some of its corporate cronies. A medicine designed, hopefully, to make large profits and quell a predicted outbreak of new and virulent strains of tuberculosis are elements of Justin's journey to confront the truth of it all.
How is this new drug being tested? Is the testing ethical in light of whats likely to be a pandemic? These are thoughts the moviegoer "enjoys" while the actor on screen (Fiennes), through his own craft and that of the novelist, screenwriter (Jeffrey Caine) and director, gets the answers.
Parallels are in clear resonance with what "The Constant Gardener" creates for us and today's reported news (embedded or otherwise). It could be enough to cause some not to mention it, or give the film a bad review. I'm hoping that won't come to pass.
A friend blurted after the screening of this UK-German film that "Hollywood wouldnt of touched this picture with a ten-foot mic boom."
"The Constant Gardener" official site.
Gary Chew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2005, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.