The Constant Gardener is a film that would make Michael Bay proud if he ever sees it. Not because of explosions, but because of the jerky camera movements that are the basis of the story telling here. In order to keep the audience enthralled with the story unfolding, Director Fernando Meirelles uses many different camera techniques and classical music full of crescendos in order to keep the drama evident. The drama being the search by one man to find answers for a tragedy that has taken place in his life. The film reminded me a lot of Denzel Washington's revenge picture Man on Fire, but what we have here is a story that wanted to go much deeper than revenge, and focus almost entirely on an emotional standpoint. For the film thrives on emotion, and Meirelles really works hard to make his audience feel certain things at certain times, only to force us to change out minds a few scenes later. The story itself relies almost entirely on the audience feeling lost or small in comparison to the tasks the main character must go through to find information, and many camera tricks are used to pull that off. In my opinion though, the story and the Director go a little too far when they are trying to mold the opinion of the audience.
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Ralph Fiennes stars as Justin Quayle, a member of British High Commission in Nairobi. He takes on a wife at the very beginning of the film by the name of Tessa (played by Rachel Weisz), who could be seen as his complete opposite. She differs in nearly every aspect from him, but the one thing they hold in common, is their care for human life. They are both in Africa because of the plight that has been going on, and they are both there now with the intent of helping the people of the country. Tessa though, is involved in something that is far different than Justin had expected, and from the very beginning of the film, we are shown just how dangerous her goals had become. It's not a plot spoiler when I say that in the opening sequence of the story, Tessa meets her end. It is actually the basis of the entire rest of the story, as we, along with Justin Quayle, try to figure out what Tessa was involved in, and exactly what led up to her death. The struggle to find answers isn't left to just the characters of the film, but to the audience as well, because we aren't given any hints as to what has occurs or transpired. In fact, we are often given scattered pieces of information that don't mean anything on their own, but have to pieced together to form a much larger puzzle.
As any man would, Justin must find out why his wife has been killed, and what she was involved in that was so grievous. He has his own doubts about her loyalty to him, and we are shown almost a split personality form in him from the moment he hears of her death. In fact, when hearing the news of her death you can almost see where a part of him has shut down, as he displays more emotion in worrying about the man who had to tell him this news, than the news itself. Whether you want to classify it as denial, or something else, Justin's life, and his persona has been altered from the start of the film. From there, the story progresses through many flashbacks that involved the couple, and eventually of the journey that Tessa has taken herself on through the back of Africa. All the while, a story is unfolding in front of us, of Justin trying to bring the people behind her death to justice. What he finds though, is that it is easier to think that you will find a solution, than to actually finding that. Under every rock he turns over, lies another snake, and no matter what road he takes, this story is not going to have a happy ending.
To some, this movie will come off as more of a political statement about the state of things in Africa than as a feature film. To those people, I would have to agree, because many of the thoughts portrayed in the movie are intended to have more of an impact on us than just developing characters of plot to the story. We are shown the real Africa, and put on display is everything wrong with the country, and the way that companies take advantage of their situations down there. The moral implications of peoples actions are put on display, and to a point, we are almost spoon-fed scene after scene of the hardships that people are going through. In my opinion this was hammered home in the first few moments of the film, and it took away something from it, and the story by continuing to do that until the end. Of course Weisz and Fiennes are great in their roles, and I normally enjoy the films that either of them are in. The supporting cast is a mix of interesting and snide characters, none of which you would recognize from other films, but in the same token, it keeps you focused on the plot unfolding in front of you.
Now The Constant Gardener is not an easy film to review, because you walk away from it being more impacted by the plight of the African people, than by the story itself. It sheds a lot of light on things that could be improved, and things that need to be done, but it ends up taking something away from the story involving our main characters. This is a film that will come up in Oscar talk I am sure for this year, but I think it was lacking a certain something that could have really put it over the top. Don't get me wrong though, with some brilliant acting by Fiennes, I thought that this was a very good movie, I am just not willing to attach the word "great" to it. The Constant Gardener is definitely worth seeing, but should be approached with the same caution as a film like Hotel Rwanda. You know ahead of time what you are getting into, but you are sure there will be a heartfelt story with some great acting surrounding it. So, I recommend this film, but with some solid reservations.
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