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The Constant Gardener

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Released 2005. Director: Fernando Meirelles

I WASN'T EXPECTING A LOVE STORY FROM NOVELIST JOHN LE CARRE. I was expecting a spy thriller. In The Constant Gardener, I got both. Rachel Weisz plays Tessa, a woman with a strong sense of social justice and the courage to push for change without fear. A few moments into the movie we’re told she’s found murdered and the rest of the story is about her husband Justin’s search for the truth.

As a diplomat, Justin has friends in high places. But what would you do if you found out that the people you work for are responsible for the brutal death of your wife? And what if the people you work for are the government?

Thriller and love story in equal measures, The Constant Gardener grows on you like a neglected backyard in fast-forward. You sit there, and it takes over. You’ll be asking what Tessa has discovered that so threatens the powerful they need to silence her.

Fernando Meirelles, best known for his break-out hit City of God (2002), directs with a bold visual style and an energetic rhythm, drawing us into the exploitations by big pharmaceutical corporations rendered invisible in the bustle and life of Kenyan slums. Nothing goes slow for long and a sense of urgency pushes the plot ahead.

Jeffrey Caine trims the complex plot of the novel that runs nearly 600 pages into two compact hours. A balance between a husband’s search for answers to his wife’s murder and the dark side of capitalism with scant regard for the value of human lives.

Ralph Fiennes’s underrated performance as the gentleman diplomat and grievous husband was unfairly overlooked at the awards. An implosion of suppressed emotions concealed by discipline and decorum.

The pharmaceutical industry will not like this movie, being depicted as heartless merchants who experiment on the unsuspecting poor of Africa, treating them as dispensable test subjects. Strangely though, the British Foreign Service actually cooperated on a project that puts them in such an undignified light.

Although the appalling machinations depicted is fictional, the truth is apparently much worse. If you sit through the closing credits, you’ll catch some chilling words from John le Carre: “Nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank God, is based upon an actual person or outfit in the real world. But I can tell you this; as my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard.”

The twin evils of politics and commerce in bed together fear only one thing: truth. The Constant Gardener digs deep with anger and sadness to find what lies beneath.


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