The Good: Decent concepts/themes, Moments of plot, Direction
The Bad: Unremarkable acting, Unremarkable characters, Plot structuring
The Basics: The Constant Gardener is a conspiracy theory thriller where the characters undermine the realism of the movie and the structure makes it virtually impossible to care.
My wife and I have been sharing movies a lot lately. After almost five years of knowing one another, my wife finally watched Bound (reviewed here!) and did not completely hate it (yea!). She recalled that she had seen, enjoyed, and thought I would like The Constant Gardener. When the movie was done, I asked her why and she said that it had all of the elements (she assumed) were important to my love of films: lots of characters, convoluted plots, and depressing as all hell. While I contested that those were the essential elements of a great film in my mind and tried to illustrate the other factors that were important to me (depressing is no longer terribly compelling to me). Regardless, I was not fond of The Constant Gardener and my wife felt annoyed that she had picked a movie that didn’t grab me. Telling her that I appreciated her thinking about me meant a lot to me did not change much, but it was the truth; I was glad she thought about me and tried to share a movie with thoughts about my preferences in mind.
The level of emotion my wife expressed in trying to choose a movie I might actually enjoy based on my prior preferences is deeper and better presented than the emotions in The Constant Gardener. The Constant Gardener has some incredible issues that are poorly presented and resolved in utterly uncompelling ways. In fact, while there are important concepts that actually resonate with me that appear in The Constant Gardener, the movie is put together so poorly on the plot and character fronts that the thematic issues that I care about are undermined.
Justin Quayle is a British High Commissioner working in Kenya when his wife, Tessa, is killed. The story flashes back to how Tessa met Justin while undermining a speech he was giving in the UK. They sleep together and Justin goes back to work, more or less forgetting about Tessa. Shortly thereafter, Tessa appears and asks to come with Justin to Kenya and in order to make that happen, they get married. In Kenya, Tessa begins doing some investigative work on the health organizations working in the country. Working with Dr. Arnold Bluhm, Tessa begins to expose the actions of pharmaceutical companies in Kenya.
Tessa discovers that a major pharmaceutical conglomerate is paying off the British government to allow them to perform drug trial experiments on Kenyan citizens without their knowledge. Despite ruffling the feathers of administrators and getting into a devil’s bargain with Justin’s co-worker Sandy Woodrow, Tessa continues her investigation. After her murder, Justin begins putting the pieces together as to why she was killed and ends up in a collision course with the forces who killed her.
The fundamental problem with The Constant Gardener is in the characters and the fact that it is revealed fairly early in the movie that Tessa has discovered that the pharmaceutical companies are experimenting on people. After that point, The Constant Gardener is like a murder mystery after the killer has been revealed. The movie loses some serious punch after the reason for Tessa’s murder is given and the film meanders through all of the motivations of characters who are largely inconsequential.
The real kicker comes in the form of the characters. Justin and Tessa make a generally unemotional decision to get married; it is a marriage of convenience for Tessa. So, while there is a human element to the murder of Tessa, Justin’s obsession with finding out what she knew is not compellingly presented. Neither the characters, nor the performances between Ralph Fiennes (Justin) and Rachel Weisz (Tessa), resonate with even a hint of chemistry. As a result, The Constant Gardener seems like a drastic overreaction to the murder of someone who is not even particularly friendly to Justin.
The Constant Gardeneris long and it feels long and the intricacies of the conspiracy take up a lot of the film’s time. There might be more to say about the movie, but the truth is, I can’t muster up the enthusiasm to write about it because the two main leads have no chemistry and their characters are inorganically thrust together, but act like they have a great romance (which they do not) and the conspiracy is interesting, but revealed far too early to keep the movie interesting for so much of what follows.
For other reviews of films with Pete Postlethwaite, please visit:
Clash Of The Titans
Romeo + Juliet
The Usual Suspects
For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my movie reviews!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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