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flick pick | The Constant Gardener 2005
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
Written by: John Le Carré [novel], Jeffrey Caine [screenplay], Barulio Mantovani [cont. writer]
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Koundé, Danny Huston
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama, thriller
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Justin Quayle is a mid-level British diplomat, a mild-mannered, rule-abiding sort who’s far too civilized to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. He’s a nice man, a pleasant man, but not exactly a man ruled by passions; just about the only thing he seems to genuinely care deeply about is tending his garden. Then he meets a feisty activist named Tessa, and promptly ends up in bed with her. He’s so madly in love and decidedly not his usual rational self that when she asks him to marry him so she can accompany him on his upcoming diplomatic mission to Kenya, he actually takes her up on it, never mind that the two barely know one another. Soon, they’ve set up a little home for themselves in Africa. Justin immerses himself in the bureaucracy of life as a foreign diplomat, while Tessa, ever the woman with a cause, teams up with a doctor named Arnold Bluhm to provide healthcare relief to the local population. Outspoken and fiercely committed to her ideals, Tessa has a tendency to ask questions that make Justin’s colleagues uncomfortable; unlike Justin, she thrives on making waves, and doesn’t bat an eyelash when her work with Arnold sometimes takes them away to far and dangerous corners of the country. It’s after one of these trips with Arnold that the authorities discover Tessa’s body by a remote lake in the middle of nowhere. She’s been brutally murdered; Arnold is nowhere to be found. Justin can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to the story than just a simple case of a white woman being in the wrong place in Kenya at the wrong time, or a crime of passion on the part of Bluhm. Though his higher-ups insist he should simply let things lie and let them take care of any investigating, Justin finds himself haunted by memories of Tessa. As he begins digging into her secrets, he knows he may learn some things he doesn’t want to know about his wife. But the deeper he gets, the more it becomes clear that there’s far more at stake than he realized, as he learns some hard truths about friends and colleagues, government and big business … and most of all, his own conscience.

Review Political thrillers don’t generally leap to my attention when I’m browsing for possible movie rentals; too many of them feature one-dimensional action stars who seem far more comfortable running around dumbly amidst explosions than doing the intellectual work of piecing together the pieces of the puzzle at hand. So it’s just as well I found myself watching The Constant Gardener without bothering to read what it was actually about first; I knew it starred Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, two actors who have always struck me as every bit as intelligent as they are pretty to look at, and was directed by the guy who did the amazing Brazilian slum drama City of God, and that was enough. Indeed, if you went into this movie expecting an action-packed thrill ride I imagine you’d be pretty disappointed. The mystery unravels slowly, and not at all clearly at times; the story’s told in fragments, with snippets from the past dropped in from out of nowhere amidst events of the present, and as a viewer, you have to pay attention to figure out what it all means, and which characters are on what side of the good/bad divide. Still, Meirelles manages to spin this complex web of a story with real elegance and style; Fiennes and Weisz, meanwhile, are sublime and completely believable. Go into this prepared to be a little patient, and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous visuals, great performances, and a message that just might make you think a little more -- about how often most of us opt to do nothing because the problems out there seem so great, and what a cop-out that kinda sorta is.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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