Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: "The Constant Gardener" is Constantly Good (Happy B'day, Rachel Weisz)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Constant Gardener (2005)
Running time: 129 minutes (2 hours, 9 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, some violent images, and sexual content/nudity
DIRECTOR: Fernando Meirelles
WRITER: Jeffrey Caine (based upon the novel by John le Carré)
PRODUCER: Simon Channing Williams
EDITOR: Clair Simpson
Academy Award winner


Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, and Pete Postlethwaite, Donald Sumpter, Hubert Koundé, Archie Punjabi, Gerard McSorley, and Samuel Otage

Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) fell in love with his wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), when she first confronted him after a speech at a diplomatic conference. Tessa followed the Justin, a member of the British High Commission to Nairobi, Kenya and became his wife, but she remained a dedicated human rights and peace activist on her own, fighting for the health of poor Africans. Eventually, Tess is found brutally murdered, and her companion, a local doctor (Samuel Otage) and close friend of Tessa’s, appears to have fled the seen of the murder

The gossips in the Quayle’s personal and professional circle think this was a crime of passion. Justin’s colleague, Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston, in a fine supporting performance), and Justin’s superior at the British High Council, Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy), assume that Justin will leave the matter of Tessa’s murder to their discretion and instead, tend to his passion – the lovely gardens that surround the Quayles’ home in Nairobi.

Much to their chagrin, Justin begins his own investigation, and nothing will stop him from uncovering the truth, not even rumors of his wife’s affairs. But this is a conspiracy much larger and more dangerous than he can imagine, involving giant, multi-national pharmaceutical companies, assassins for hire, and the continent of Africa – rife with civil war, starvation, corrupt governments, and deadly epidemics.

Based upon the best-selling novel by John Le Carré, The Constant Gardener delivers on the promise shown by director Fernando Meirelles in the Oscar-nominated, City of God. It’s a riveting suspense thriller full of conniving agents, evil corporations, and British accents. Its complicated web of bribes, handshake deals, and murder ensnares the viewer with engaging characters in a thrill delivery system that pays off like crack and makes you want more – credit to screenwriter Jeffrey Caine. Meirelles is clever and imaginative with the way he uses camera angles, movements, focus, subject, structure, etc., making the most of the possibilities afforded him by a good script.

But what’s most surprising here is that there is a rather poignant and engaging romance film that weaves through of the scheming and deceptions (keenly embodied by Bill Nighy, a master of playing sly, bold, and cultured bad guys) – basically a political thriller seen through a romance. Meirelles expertly balances this, making the romance as entrancing as the suspense. Through flashbacks that increase the narrative flow and enhances the intensity of Justin Quayle’s search for his wife’s murderers, Meirelles insures that the film’s advertising tagline, “Love. At all costs,” is damn true.

It helps to have a good cast, in particularly strong leads. Rachel Weisz is beautiful, charming, and sexy as the passionate activist. She gives Tessa Quayle an exuberant quality that makes the early stages of Justin and Tessa’s love a bubbly affair. Later, she makes Tessa a proud and strong woman who looks out for her man and for the world, but retains a shy vulnerability that makes us believe she really needs Justin, wants him, and loves him.

Ralph Fiennes is the master of the upper class gentleman characters, always involved in dangerous or controversial love affairs, usually with women who aren’t in his social class or social circles. There is, however, truth in his performances that we can see in his facial expressions and in his eyes. You can buy his characters’ passions; they are real where a lesser actor would make such an affair seem contrived. For some reason, I can believe that this man will be true to his love at all costs, and that’s what sells this poignant drama and gripping whodunit – the thing that takes a good film one step up to the next level.

9 of 10

Monday, January 30, 2006

2006 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Rachel Weisz); 4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Editing” (Claire Simpson), “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Alberto Iglesias), and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (Jeffrey Caine)

2006 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Editing” (Claire Simpson); 9 nominations: “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (Simon Channing Williams, Fernando Meirelles, and Jeffrey Caine), “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Alberto Iglesias), “Best Cinematography” (César Charlone), “Best Film” (Simon Channing Williams), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Ralph Fiennes), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Rachel Weisz), “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Jeffrey Caine), “Best Sound” (Joakim Sundström, Stuart Wilson. Mike Prestwood Smith, and Sven Taits), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Fernando Meirelles)

2006 Golden Globes: 1win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Rachel Weisz); 2 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Fernando Meirelles), “Best Motion Picture – Drama


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