Constant Gardener

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The Constant Gardener: Constantly un-absorbing.

Oct 13, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Production values. Lead actors.

Cons:Lack of emotional connection.

The Bottom Line: Not bad, and some will find it intensely absorbing, but I didn't. It looked good though.


Based on the eponymous novel, The Constant Gardener is an anomaly among recent movies, a thriller that, for better and worse, primarily appeals to the intellect rather than emotions, which makes for an interesting but not absorbing film.

The Constant Gardener follows Justin and Tessa Quayle (Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, both perfectly cast), a British couple working in Kenya, he as a botanically-inclined ambassador, she as an fiery activist. When she is killed (not much of a spoiler, that happens almost immediately), Justin spends the rest of the film trying to determine exactly who his wife was and what she was actually doing. Call it a one-way Mr. & Mrs. Smith without all of the...well, everything.

For the first half of the movie, as Justin tries to determine her identity and drive, the audience's state of mind mirrors Justin's: neither has any idea what is happening. But this isn't a good state of mind for the viewer. It's not as an enjoyable confusion like The Usual Suspects, nor is it as driving a confusion as Signs. It frustrates like having half the pieces of an impossibly difficult puzzle. Whether or not you want to, you have no chance to solve the puzzle, which thus generates a disappointing amount of disinterest.

The foundational reason for the apathy lies in the connection with Justin and Tessa. The problem is that their relationship is relatively unexplained, which is acceptable in itself, but in turn minimizes the emotional connection with the audience. As Justin traces the painfully twisted story behind his wife, I cared because I wanted to know what was happening, not because I cared about the characters. I know that some have made this emotional connection that I missed, but I failed to find it in part because I fulfilled the goal of the film, putting myself in Justin's shoes, although perhaps I overstepped the cinematic wall in imposing my own beliefs on him. Personally, I would never have married someone I didn't truly know, and therefore never have been in his precise situation. Those who have been in or can see themselves in like circumstances could make a strong connection. But while I understand the romance and Justin's motivation to unearth the truth, I never felt an emotional bond that could have elevated the film to greater heights.

Even though not being pandered to with melodrama is a pleasant change of pace, the film swings the pendulum too far the other way. Due in part to the aforementioned detachment, it fails to generate even the drama of The Interpreter, even though Gardener possesses a warmer style than the detached Syndey Pollack picture, thanks to a fervid blend of production values. The jittery cinematography is the highlight of Gardener, reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, but with a grittier feel more rural than urban, reflecting the African setting with a strong use of red and yellow hues. Cesar Charlone, who also framed City of God, produces a similar look here, and accomplishes an interesting feat by using lengthier shots yet remaining aggressive with them. Usually in your face refers to a flashy, quick-cutting Tony Scott-type picture (Top Gun). However with a vivid color scheme and a preponderance of hand-held cameras and tight shots, Charlone maintains an immediacy that enhances in the story-telling process, but can't carry the entire film.

Maybe it's just me and my cold-hearted, isolationist self, but I struggled to empathize until the more intense and quicker paced end scenes, and therefore my interest was lukewarm for most of the film. If this makes sense, The Constant Gardener, with its high production values and just-awry story, was better than I liked it. 7 of 10.


Recommend this product? Yes

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