Film Review

FERNANDO MEIRELLES’ THE CONSTANT GARDENER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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After making a tremendous splash with his masterful debut City of God, it was a decidedly tricky and unexpected task to take on an adaptation of a John Le Carre novel, what with its dense sense of narrative and expectations stemming from the source materuial, but that’s exactly what the aggressively talented filmmaker Fernando Meirelles did, with results that are positively spellbinding. This is a lush yet gritty film, one that has a sensuous visual texture at times, with Meirelles and his incredible cinematographer César Charlone using light and color and hand held cameras to convey tons of visual information as well as a constant sense of unnerving tension all throughout. Claire Simpson’s expert editing went a long way in keeping all of the information coherent, while providing a sense of tragic grace to the flow of the narrative. Adapted by screenwriter Jeffrey Caine, the film centers on Justin Qualye (the always excellent Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat living in Kenya, and trying to put together the pieces to the mysterious death his wife Tessa (a sensational Rachel Weisz), who was working as an Amnesty International activist. The film utilized a nonlinear structure to tell its story, showing flashbacks to Justin and Tessa’s intense romance, intercut with the present day, political thriller narrative. The strong supporting cast included Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite, Donald Sumpter, a nasty Danny Huston, and Hubert Kounde, with portions of the film being shot on location in the seemingly dangerous slums of Kenya. The plot line to the film was loosely based on a real-life incident in Nigeria, thus amping up the film’s sense of moral outrage, as elements of the story include the illegal testing of unproven drugs on the poorest members of African society. The Constant Gardener would receive extremely strong critical support and would perform solidly at the box office, before receiving four Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Weisz, who would go on to win the little gold man.

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