Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday December 3, 2019 


Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is an irrepressible activist and Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is an English diplomat who loves gardening. After a whirlwind romance they head off to Kenya as man and wife, where Tessa - without Justin's knowledge - probes into what appears to be covered up testing of new TB drugs on helpless AIDS victims. When she is found killed in a car bomb explosion in remote Northern Kenya, Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston), Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy) and others in the British diplomatic corps suggest to Justin that it was crime of passion, perpetrated by Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé) the man on whom Tess had relied in Kenya, who had fled the scene. But her death stirs Justin to take his head out of the sand (or garden soil) and follow up her work, discovering - at the risk of his own life - how corrupt everyone connected with the affair has become, from local politicians and police to the powerful multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Review by Louise Keller:
Dedicated to Aid worker Yvette Pierpaoli, and to all aid workers 'who lived and died giving a damn', The Constant Gardener raises issues that go beyond the plight of its central characters. The story (based on John le Carre's novel) is overtly political, canvassing the greed of international pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the innocents, who suffer from diseases. Set for the most part in Kenya, with sections shot in Sudan, England and Canada, the film is visually as colourful as the topic it broaches. From the rhythms of the African music to the oil-painting-like landscape over which formation-flying birds flying are nature's artistic installations, The Constant Gardener is a dense and absorbing political story with elements of conspiracy, mystery, murder and romance.

Ralph Fiennes' Justin is a nurturer. Just as he cares for his beloved plants and gardens, this British Diplomat avoids conflict and controversy. The character is not unlike the one Fiennes played in The English Patient, and his thoughtful, considerate Justin is the complete opposite of Rachel Weisz's fearless and outspoken Tess, who passionately thrives on her cause as an activist battling for human rights. There's abundant yin-yang chemistry between Fiennes and Weisz, while Danny Huston injects plenty of duality in his complex Sandy Woodrow. Casting is excellent with Bill Nighy credible as the ruthless Sir Bernard Pelligin, Hubert Koundé likeable as Tess' doctor collaborator and Pete Postlethwaite memorable as Lorbeer.

The first half of the film works best as it weaves in and out of the present into the past. It starts as a love story, when Justin and Tess first meet over a barrage of words at a lecture. Passion turns into commitment and when we become involved intimately with the characters, the all-important resolution arrives too suddenly, too easily. What might have been revelatory and climactic in le Carre's novel somehow feels like information we are being told. But this is no doubt the difficulty of condensing a novel into a screenplay. The hand-held camera grates somewhat, too. However, hiccups are soothed as the story rediscovers its legs and Justin sets out to find the truth at any cost.

With its relentless pulse and inescapable sense of place, The Constant Gardener is an intelligent and thought provoking film, whose message beats strongly and powerfully.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The combustible combination of John le Carré's writing and Fernando Meirelles' filmmaking makes for riveting, moving cinema. Intelligent work like this offers audiences the chance to engage profoundly with the subject - or simply take it as a dramatic story, whose spell works to disengage us from our own reality. These two opposite reactions are built on each other: the more effective and credible the drama, the more effective it is as an escape. And the more engaging the plot, the more effective our deeper response to the subject matter.

This story is told through Justin and Tess' romantic relationship, the emotive engine, but the plot itself is based on the outrageous manipulations of the powerless by those in a position of power. And this extends to the feral tribesmen of Northern Kenya depicted in the film as marauding bandits who steal children and chattel from defenceless villagers. Of course, the biggest baddies are the drug companies who, under cover of helping Africa's sick, are cheap-testing drugs that are not ready for mass marketing. They kill in the shadow of another killer: here's a morally complex concept flashed through the plot with the punch of a hand grenade.

The film's visual power is unquestionable, and the settings achingly beautiful yet pregnant with melancholy for what those landscapes have to witness.

Jeffrey Caine's screenplay does justice to the novel and the direction is dynamic, while all the performances are excellent, despite a lingering sense that the film's editorial bias has tended to paint its characters black & white. But this is perhaps the price for shrinking a complex novel into a two hour film. And if you stay for the credits, near the end (after the music credits) you'll read the sobering message from John le Carré that justifies it: "Nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank God, is based upon an actual person or outfit in the real world. But I can tell you this; as my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realise that, by comparison with reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard."

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US/UK, 2005)

CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Pernilla August, John Sibi-Okumu, Danny Huston, Hubert Kounde, Daniele Harford, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite

PRODUCER: Simon Channing-Williams

DIRECTOR: Fernando Meirelles

SCRIPT: Jeffrey Caine (novel by John le Carré)


EDITOR: Claire Simpson

MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias


RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 17, 2005

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019