The Constant Gardener: a movie that matters

Don?t be turned off by its title. The Constant Gardener is none of the following: a documentary on Martha Stewart?s house arrest, an adaptation of those magazines you always find in your grandma?s house, or a CNN crime special on the seemingly perfect Little League coach who was busy burying ex-lovers under his kid?s swing set. I know, I was disappointed too. What I found, though, was a movie brimming with political intrigue and social commentary supplemented with engaging characters and a unique directing style.

Ralph Fiennes, best known for his turn as everyone?s favorite Nazi in Schindler?s List, stars as Justin Quayle, a British diplomat much more suave than his last name ought to allow. Justin meets Tessa (Rachel Weisz), a fiery activist any man would fall in love with ? she?s appropriately smart, passionate, and beautiful. The two of them soon enjoy the traditional CMU approach to love: incredible sex, some ?getting to know you? chats, and marriage.

The film follows Justin and Tessa to Kenya, where Tessa is working with a young doctor to achieve equal patient rights in the AIDS-ravaged area. When Tessa witnesses what she takes to be the murder of a village girl, she begins a crusade to expose the evil underside of drug testing in Africa. Tessa?s seemingly benevolent motives against major pharmaceutical firms become the object of speculation when she is found brutally murdered. Her young colleague is nowhere to be found, leading some to assume it was a crime of passion.

Heartbroken at the thought of his wife?s infidelity, Justin begins a mission to uncover the truth of her death. Traversing three continents and stopping at nothing to unveil the conspiracy, Justin discovers a cover-up far more dangerous than a man who wears double-breasted suits could ever have imagined.

The sophomore effort of City of God director Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener is not told in the linear fashion explained above. Fans of his breakthrough film will know Meirelles?s style, with liberal camera angles and a strict control of color.

Meirelles brings his recognizable approach to the picture, giving us glimpses of Justin and Tessa?s supposedly faultless love even as rumors of her infidelity swirl. Fiennes and Weisz are a true presence on the screen, and Bill Nighy, who played the burned-out rock star in Love Actually, takes a turn for the creepy as Justin?s boss. Fiennes perfectly balances the turmoil of a mild-tempered man whose passivity weakens with each plot twist ? and Weisz expertly plays a woman whose intelligence is matched only by her beauty.

We are treated to views of Africa?s mysterious scenery and given a tour of the more compelling mysteries found within its endless landscapes. Raising questions of pharmaceutical companies? motives and the lengths they?ll go to in order to make a buck, Meirelles has provided an anomaly in the stream of superhero films of recent months. This flick tackles the political thriller genre with an added element of drive and purpose. In short, it does not play like those Harrison Ford movies that always seem to be on TNT.

So even those of you scanning the newspaper for the latest HGTV special should check out The Constant Gardener. Its unique blend of intrigue and romance satisfies all film tastes, not to mention that you?ll sound really smart next time you discuss the presence of major corporations in impoverished Africa (who knows when that?ll come up again?). Meirelles has brought us an enthralling story different from the rest: This one has a point. Arriving just in time for awards season, The Constant Gardener is a movie that matters. See it, and leave with a more lasting impression than the one in your seat.

Erich Schwartzel
Junior Staffwriter