Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rewind - The Constant Gardener

2005's line-up for the Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars was pretty impressive. It had the always amazing Catherine Keener for her performance in biopic Capote. Previous winner Frances McDormand was nominated for her stellar performance in the gritty drama North Country. Michelle Williams was in there for her stunning turn in Brokeback Mountain, a.k.a the film that should have won Best Picture. And the brilliant Amy Adams was nominated for her first time thanks to her show stopping performance in Junebug. But who was the one who got the award over those four equally amazing performances? Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener. She had considerably less screen time than most of her competition, and probably a least 'flashy' role. Though I was a huge fan of Amy Adams and her electrifying performance in Junebug, a performance that is done with so much heart, even though her character wasn't the nicest, and that genuinely sparks up the screen instantly even though most of her time is used for flashbacks, deserves a win. My question is, why the hell wasn't Ralph Fiennes nominated for his leading performance?

Fiennes and Weisz, both giving it everything they've got, star in what is effectively a love story, just set within the confines of a political thriller. It's all about Fiennes, who plays British diplomat Justin Quayle, who is trying to seek out the real explanation as to why his wife Tessa, played by Weisz, was murdered during their stay in Kenya. Though this is not a true story as such, there isn't anything that is too unbelievable in this movie. As Justin looks into the reasons that could possibly point to his wife's murder, the film switches gears and also looks at the horrible world of drug-testing on humans. Now, Justin is running up against a corporation who uses poor Africans to test a tuberculosis drug, and he has the power to expose their secret, so naturally, they want him dead, too. People want Justin to stop with this little quest of his, but does he want to? No. Because he loved his wife dearly, even though the many secrets he uncovers after her death probably would have broken their marriage anyway.

This movie set out to be a provocative thriller, and in that, it succeeded. Whether that be because of the fierce portrayal of the slums in Kenya, or the amount of corruption that happened because of this drug testing thing, the film certainly shows a whole lot of anger towards nearly everything. The best thing is that, even though it definitely doesn't want to shy away from being a Hollywood thriller of sorts, it remains completely realistic. While there isn't a whole lot of human brutality shown on screen (something which I thought there should have been more of), the vision it has on corruption is truly blood-curdling. But even though this movie has some things to say about some shocking stuff, there were a few times when I switched off from it. Particularly when Justin returned to Britain. There was some truly heartfelt stuff in that segment of the movie (especially when he breaks down outside of Tessa's house...just one of the many reasons why I love Ralph Fiennes and his acting skills), it was just a little on the boring side. The movie, despite it's brilliant material, fails to be anything ground-breaking or great. Mind you, it ends really well, with a hint of justice for it's more serious plot strand, and a sense of beautiful closure for it's romantic storyline.

The romantic storyline is something which makes this film good, but it also lets it down. Fiennes and Weisz have this undeniable chemistry which is evident from their first meeting, which happens to be a cracker of a scene. But the one thing I really struggled with was all of the secrets that Tessa had and the fact that Justin wanted to keep going with his little plight. He was such a shy character, and I thought he would have been the kind who would have given up easily. While his love for Tessa was admirable, I don't know how he could have possibly kept fighting for her considering the way she effectively used him and his status. His resilience is...I don't know...inspirational, but in the romantic context of the movie, I found it impossible to connect to. However, when you put his resilience into the whole corruption storyline, he comes out as quite the hero. Without the partnership between Justin and Tessa, and maybe the good old 'you-think-you-knew-someone-but-you-really-didn't' theme, this film probably wouldn't have been that enjoyable for me. But while I'm sure it was supposed to give me something to root for, I was left a little dumbfounded by it.

As I said, Fiennes and Weisz give top performances. They both master the art of subtlety, with most of the pain in this movie being written across their face. Oh yeah, and I guess it's worth mentioning that Fiennes is really hot in it too...those eyes of his make me die inside, as does his sweet performance. Pete Postlethwaite was a stand-out too, even though he turns up really late in the piece. Along with the performances, this film has high points in it's direction and editing. Fernando Meirelles gives a dark film plenty of colour and vibrancy when it's in Africa, which is also backed up by some thrilling direction in the more action-esque scenes. He uses plenty of interesting angles which keep things interesting to watch. The cross cutting between when Tessa was alive and when she wasn't didn't turn out to be as corny as it should have been. The romantic strand always seems to come in at the right time, especially with the flashbacks incorporated into the ending. There's so much to like about The Constant Gardener, but there is a lot that I didn't like about it as well. I would definitely watch this again, because I felt that there was enough to outweigh the large amount of flaws the film has. It's certainly not a bad movie unworthy of a just isn't the great movie that I wanted it to be.
THE VERDICT: Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz give stellar performances in a thought-provoking movie with brilliant direction, which is ultimately let down by flaws in it's story-telling.
What I hoped for:

What I got:


  1. I watched this myself for the first time several months ago and found it an absolute knock out!! RachaleWeisz is simply outstanding and to be honest before this film I never thought much of her acting skills! The chemistry between her and Fiennes is brilliant, and they are superb as a maried couple which for me is why the film is so strong.
    This is simply a film I can't praise highly enough, but when you realise it is based on a John le Carre novel it is no surprise because he is a fine novelist.
    African Cats was definitely OK, but the narration is its let down, certainly not the'll have to read my review!

  2. I have never seen this. For some reason anything that talks about gardening constantly whether it is actually referring to horticulture or not, turns me right off!! HAHA

    Nice review S

  3. Excellent review. You're spot on about the two main actors - Fiennes and Weisz are excellent in their respective roles.

  4. I agree. Great performances but the movie felt a little bit too dull at times for me. Maybe I should give it a watch someday again but I remember it being really slow at times.

  5. This movie left me a wreck the first time I saw it. It's an odd word to use but Weisz is so enchanting here, and Fiennes so freakin' underrated (his performance is impeccable). It's one of the finest novel to cinema adaptations of a genre novel I've even witnessed Mereilles is great.

    But I can't resist the greatness of Custard's comment: "For some reason anything that talks about gardening constantly whether it is actually referring to horticulture or not, turns me right off!!"

  6. It's been a while since I saw this but I remember being quite affected by it... not necessarily the romance but the transformation of Ralph's character. I see your point about them having undeniable chemistry, but yeah it seems more on the physical side I think, for him to suddenly become head over heels seems a bit of a stretch. Otherwise I think it's a pretty compelling film.

    @Andrew – Custard's comment is awesome isn't it? He's such a cracker!!

  7. Brent - Yeah, the film was strong for me because of the relationship between Fiennes and Weisz. Their acting was so bloody brilliant!

    Custard - HAHA oh Custard, it has nothing to do with gardening (really). In fact, I have no clue why it is called The Constant Gardener!

    Dan - They are indeed!

    Castor - Yeah, I might give it another go, but I too found it a little dull.

    Andrew - Fiennes was so freaking underrated! How the guy doesn't have an Oscar (or even get nominated for this) is beyond me!
    And yes, Custard's comment was hilarious!

    Ruth - Yes, for him to suddenly be head over heels was a bit weird, I thought. The transformation of Ralph's character was an interesting watch for sure.

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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