These reviews occasionally come easily, from a notebook scrawled in the dark with countless comment, criticisms, and random ramblings, from which we formulate something resembling a coherent criticism, or at least an entertaining read. And yet, here I have my notes from The Constant Gardener. There’s about six of them. Sometimes we’re too buy watching the movie to take notes.
The Constant Gardener is adapted from a novel by John Le Carre, and directed by Fernando Meirelles, whose harrowing City of God was cinema dynamite back in early 2003. As with that film, Gardener has atmosphere and urgency to spare; it also has a truly elegant piece of source material, and while it starts out well, it picks up tremendous momentum as it goes along.
The film also shares a sense of linear rule-breaking with Meirelles’ previous effort. Jeffrey Caine’s intelligent screenplay shoots first and asks questions later (literally), with the death of its female lead roughly 180 seconds into the film.
That female lead is the ridiculously talented Rachel Weisz; the male lead is Ralph Finnes, a fine actor who has possibly never been better in a film. His performance is somehow reminiscent of Don Cheadle’s in Hotel Rwanda—a finely tuned interpretation of a man always in control, to such a degree that when he cracks, it is absolutely shattering.
It takes Finnes a while to crack, however. He is broken, of course, by his wife’s death, but is also haunted by doubts about what caused it, and rumors about her infidelities. His curiosity leads him to start asking some questions about her activities (she was an activist and not known for her discretion), and getting some fairly terrifying answers.
The film is filled to the brim with stellar supporting performances; the best is probably that of Bill Nighy (so funny as the washed-up rock star in Love Always) as a career politician (and twit). Danny Houston is also memorable as a colleague of Finnes’ with a hidden agenda.
The cinematography is by Meirelles’ City of God lenser César Charlone, who again crafts a rich visual tapestry. His handheld work has already been criticized by some, but I’m not one of them; it lends the film an even greater sense of energy and urgency. Charlone also does playing with focus that proves very effective.
These, however, are just the details, and some of them are frankly just me filling space since I didn’t take any damn notes. The film is engrossing, and angry, and smart, and thrilling. It showcases an exciting new director at the top of his game, and a cast that is incapable of playing a false scene. And, at the end of an abysmal summer (even by usual summer standards), it is like a shot of cinematic penicillin.
-From September 2005
"The Constant Gardener" is available on DVD and is streaming on Netflix.