THE CONSTANT GARDENER (8/31/2005)
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston

My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 83% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A widowed British diplomat (Fiennes) is determined to get to the bottom of a potentially explosive secret involving his wife’s murder, big business, and corporate corruption.

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In terms of plot, “The Constant Gardener” is fairly standard thriller material. A secret is uncovered involving a huge pharmaceutical company and its medical trials in a third world African country. The woman (played by Rachel Weisz in an Oscar-winning role) who discovers the secret is murdered, and it’s up to her husband, Justin (Ralph Fiennes), to not only discover what the secret is, but to also make sure it doesn’t get covered up all over again. Clues lead Justin a merry chase from Kenya to London to Rome and back again, dogged by shadowy figures who will stop at nothing to keep the secret safe.

In a lesser filmmaker’s hands, this would have resulted in a standard, uninspired thriller. What sets THIS film apart is the absorbing visual style, courtesy of Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, whose previous film, the marvelous “City of God”, established him firmly in the top tier of contemporary directors. There are no cinematographic pyrotechnics, exactly. It’s more subtle, something I never really noticed until this viewing, which marks, I think, the fourth time I’ve watched it. The movie pulls you in with specific camera angles, cutting, tilting. There are little visual tricks, like a fixed camera pan that transports you from a golf course to the middle of an African village in one shot. Stuff like that.

The story itself is convincing without being accurate, which I’m okay with. I doubt employees of “big pharma” are fans of this film, which paints the industry with a broad, malicious brush. I’m not naïve enough to think that conspiracies NEVER happen, but I’m also not naïve enough to think they are ALWAYS happening.

That said, “The Constant Gardener” is as much fun to watch as “All the President’s Men” or “Michael Clayton”, sort of David vs. Goliath stories. It clips along at a nice pace, the screenplay is literate and mature without getting too complicated, and the outcome is suitably bittersweet to satisfy those tired of movies that end too “neatly.” A nice, well-rounded cinematic meal.

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