The Constant Gardener (2005)

Genre(s): Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Focus Features, Universal || R - 129 minutes - $29.98 || January 10th, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-01-06


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer(s): John Le Carre (novel), Jeffrey Caine (screenplay)
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite


Theatrical Release Date: August 31st, 2005


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended Scene
  • Anatomy of a Global Thriller
  • Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya
  • John le Carre: From Page to the Screen


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

The Constant Gardener has gained many excellent reviews from the critics and regular movie-goers alike. When I first saw it, I didn't see why. While indeed the visuals from director Fernando Meirelles is great and the acting from an outstanding ensemble is perhaps award worthy, but between these two, I could not get into the story. I personally found more emotion from 2003's Hotal Rwanda starring Oscar nominee Don Cheadle. That said, Constant Gardener is still a worthy movie to rent or, if you're a fan of any of the talent, buy.

Original Review:
"Love. At any cost."

But as they say, it sometimes takes more than love to make it work and though there was certainly love for this project, it never truly came through.

The Constant Gardener stars Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient) as Justin Quayle, a low-level British diplomat who meets and falls for world advocate Tessa (Weisz; Constantine). The two fall in love, marry and go to Africa together where Fiennes works, along side friend/colleague Sandy (Huston; Birth), in behest of the British government while Tessa has her own agenda which ultimately gets her killed. I'm not revealing any real spoiler here as she dies within the first 10 minutes and pops up via flashbacks.

At any rate, Quayle makes it his mission to find out who and why she died. As he digs through her past, he discovers that her death might have involved his own government and pharmaceutical corporations who are using the poor and neglected African population to test their experimental (and flawed) drugs. But, the more he digs the more those who are making (and have invested) in the new medicine will want to silence him.

Like The Insider and Hotel Rwanda before it, The Constant Gardener highlights injustice done to those who cannot fight back; injustice brought on by corporations thinking of the bottom line rather than the value of a man's life. This plot is fine and can be used extensively and still be fresh. And with Gardener, this remains true as it is a story that should be told, however it is the execution where the film ultimately fails.

When it came to the direction, the film could've used a little more focus. City of God director Fernando Meirelles uses the African landscape to the fullest with amazing visuals spanning across this desolate place and truly showcasing the turmoil the people face. However, it's the actual storytelling that is the film's ultimate downfall. While I liked Meirelles' way of going back and forth in time, showing Justin and Tessa's relationship flourish, for myself, it left me more confused with the story (when in fact, it's a fairly simple and straight-forward).

The highlight for this mediocre drama comes from Ralph Fiennes and to a certain extent, Rachel Weisz. Both actors turn in solid and perhaps Oscar-worthy performances that almost overcome the shortcomings I felt that direction presented. Fiennes, as usual, plays that quiet character who has something simmering underneath, waiting to boil over. And unlike other actors who would take such a character and overdo it, Fiennes lets the character come out methodically. In a year with sub-standard films (at this point, my favorite movie is Batman Begins, a movie I loved), Fiennes delivers what has to be one of the best performances by an actor yet. Despite my disappointment with Gardener overall, I do hope the Academy remembers him.

For her part, Rachel Weisz has good chemistry with Fiennes. It's especially difficult to establish a relationship when it is shown in flashbacks, so to that extent, it works well enough. However, I feel it didn't go far enough. While I felt for Justin's loss and rooted for him in his crusade, I don't know if I ever saw a true romance due to the disjointed nature of the film. Yeah, Weisz was good and any man would do anything for her, but in the context of the film, it didn't go all the way.

For my money, other political thrillers such as Hotel Rwanda, Traffic and The Insider were better in the genre. When I watched Hotel, the situation and how much the rest of the world did nothing or did not care saddened me. While the same kind of care could be said about Africa, I didn't feel as much sympathy as I should have. That, I lay on the feet of the director. I'm not asking for overly dramatic images, but perhaps that is what it would take.

The Constant Gardener is a decent movie that should've and could've been better. It is probably worth one viewing at the discount theaters or on DVD, but outside of that, it might not be worth your money.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

Even though The Constant Gardener isn't the big blockbuster film of 2005 -- it made $33.6m against a $25m budget -- but I had hoped for a little more from this DVD. Besides a commentary, what about a film diary? Aside from a short featurette, there's really nothing documenting what I consider a monumental achievement: filming on location in Africa using the locals as the extras. I don't expect a two-disc uber-special edition, but come on, give this visual treat something more...

Deleted Scenes/Extended Scene - In all, there are four deleted scenes running over ten minutes. Outside of a completely new sequence, in which Quayle (Fiennes) goes to the KBH headquarters in Canada to find out more information about the drug, Dypraxa from a scientist. I found this one scene fascinating as it ends on a but too thrilling note as this good doctor is run down in the street (right in front of Quayle). Part from that, the rest of the scene just explains what we already know and therefore would be useless. I feel the same way with the other three: one is an outdoor lunch with Sandy and his family; another is a confrontation between Curtis and Sandy and the last is basically an extended scene -- though it's part of the deleted scenes -- following an African through the village (in a hurry to get to work). There is also one extended scene of the play in Kibera (as seen in the beginning of the movie).

Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya - Features some interviews with the cast and crew as they explain why they decided to film in Africa and what a big accomplisment it was. While some of this is interesting, I had hoped for something more expansive.

John Le Carre: From Page to the Screen - Probably the more fascinating of the three featurettes, sadly. This primarily features an interview with the novelist as he explains the process it took getting his novel onto the big screen, including the changes, difficulties and such. Runtime around 8 minutes.

Anatomy of a Global Thriller: The Making of The Constant Gardender - Although I believe this might've been a featurette made for this DVD, it comes across as something for HBO or Cinemax, trying to convince people why they should see the movie... For me, these kinds of featurettes are the worst. It doesn't really include anything insightful nor is it a great look behind the cameras. Instead, it has a deep voice over explaining the plot, the actors and the characters they play, plus the director and producers. With a running time over 11-minutes, I wonder where the time went...



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

My problems with the special features aside, the picture and (for the most part) sound range from good to great. I was a bit disappointed in the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix with all vocals coming from the center speaker and the ambient/surrounding areas coming out of the other speakers, it's still all in all very good. In regards to the picture, it's presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks absolutely crisp; Meirelles' washed out visuals come across the screen magnificently.



.::OVERALL::.

Perhaps there will be a director's special edition if The Constant Gardener happens to carry away a few Globes and/or Oscars (although I think Brokeback Mountain might be the leader amongst dramas this year), but this release is merely standard in my book. While the sound and picture are quite good, the features are lacking given how important it was that it was made in Africa. In any case, it's still a good release, but only buy it if you are absolutely madly in love with the movie.