Directed by Fernando Meirelles. 2005.

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Based on John Le Carré's novel by the same name, The Constant Gardener is a love story told in flashbacks of the growing understanding between two very different people as well as a political thriller that exposes the collusion between a pharmaceutical company and the British government. Buoyed by outstanding performances by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, the film propels us into its intricate world of intrigue and corruption with a combustible energy that holds our attention from start to finish. Shot in City of God style by director Fernando Meirelles, the film uses jump cuts, saturated colors, and a variety of camera angles to capture the kinetic energy of contemporary Africa while not pulling any punches about its poverty and exploitation by multinational industries. 

The Constant Gardener opens in a remote area of Northern Kenya. Tessa (Rachel Weisz), the idealistic wife of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a laid back mid-level British diplomat and gardener has been found murdered. At first believing that his wife was unfaithful to him and was killed by activist physician Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé), he soon discovers a broader possibility. It seems that Tessa had been on the verge of disclosing a far-reaching conspiracy by government and industry involving the use of local patients as guinea pigs to test a new drug called Dypraxa that had dangerous side effects. The drug, though designed to test for HIV, was destined to become a big money maker in the West as an anti-tubercular drug if positive clinical trials could be obtained and fatalities suppressed. Rationalizing the cover-up of the deaths, Quayle's boss Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston) who is acting Head of the High Commission, cynically proclaims that "we’re not killing people who are not already dead".

Tessa's death radicalizes the once staid diplomat and he sets out to complete her work, traveling to London and Berlin to follow leads. Quayle soon runs afoul of Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy), a Foreign Office careerist who is working with Woodrow. They enlist Tim Donahue (Donald Sumpter) to follow him and make sure that he does not publish any details of the English and Kenyan government's complicity with the pharmaceutical giant. As the suspense builds, Quayle is harassed by threats and beaten as a warning in a Berlin hotel room. He receives welcome assistance, however, from Ham (Richard McCabe), Tessa's cousin in London and his son who is a computer whiz and knows how to find critical information on the Internet. 

As he returns to Africa, he visits a village near the Sudanese border to track down the inventor of the drug, Dr. Marcus Lorbeer (Pete Postlethwaite) but must escape from an attack by a band of murderous tribesmen on horseback. As the process of discovery unfolds and his personal danger increases, Justin also realizes a deeper love for Tessa and appreciation of her high intelligence and commitment to making a difference. Though marred somewhat by distracting camera work and a too pat ending that deviates from the novel, The Constant Gardener succeeds not only by calling our attention to the exploitation of the world's poor, but by its depiction of a man's awakening to the discovery of his wife's faith in him and his own realization that he merits that faith. 


Howard Schumann
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