DVD Review – The Constant Gardener (2005)

Oscar-winning, The Constant Gardener is getting a DVD release from Fabulous Films. The John Le Carre adaptation is up there with one of the best.

When diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) discovers his partner Tessa (Rachel Weisz) has been murdered in Kenya. He endeavours to find out what happened and begins to venture down the rabbit hole of what Tessa was trying to uncover.

All too often, Ralph Fiennes is given the antagonist role to work within films (especially so in recent years). So when he can be the protagonist, he can open up his humanist qualities and show his ability to allow his characters to feel emotion, the devastation it is acting at its best. He is often given these cold characters, but with Justin Quayle, we see him slowly unwrap that and become this determined and heartfelt person. We see a man move from being a distanced diplomat who doesn’t really want to trample on anyone’s toes to be active in making sure wrongs are righted. An unbelievable performance that was wrongly excluded from Oscar consideration.

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To Fiennes initially stiff Justin, Rachel Weisz is solid here as the polar opposite. The drive she gives Tessa is admirable, and you can’t help but feel devastation when we discover her fate. She is a whirlwind throughout the flashbacks, and it is so easy to see why Justin and others feel for her. She is a gentle character who didn’t know when to stop—a tremendous performance from an immense actress.

For fans of the book, an awful lot is missing in the film. The book itself is quite a complicated piece, and while the adaption keeps as much as possible intact, smaller moments are lost to the audience as to have them holds the film back and with the book also being quite lengthy, this would quickly end up being a 4-hour film. Jeffrey Caine has done tremendous work to cut down what was needed to give us a decent movie.

For a film that is so politically charged as a thriller, the love story is essential to the overall picture. Tessa’s death starts the film and is the crux to everything that happens. It is also imperative that the audience feels towards her even if there was a potential affair occurring. It is a tough one for the film to counter, and it does it so well. You fall for everything she does in these flashbacks. Making it all the more heartbreaking that we know her fate. We can see the love she has for Justin, but it isn’t enough.

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The Constant Gardener is not a film to rest on its laurels and, at times, seethes in anger at what injustice we are seeing. So much so that for a while, the film was banned in Kenya. Like Justin, we are in a constant state of shock throughout, and he only has one way to deal with it. His response is similar to ours, frightening and distressing. We have a film that purposely unsettles, and it works like a charm.

What works so well here is that we are privy to sequences that Justin is not, and when we see his doubts and fear. Only to have them worsened for the audience or even for us to have our stomachs dropped out on us as we know the truth. It becomes so much more suspenseful. It causes us to feel more for our leads and helps show how mixing up the narrative can completely change and influence a film.

It is not only this love story that is done so well. But the actual reason for Tessa’s death, the trigger. Third World countries are abused for what wealth their land has and how the value and promise of money influences those around it. No one wants to be poor, and when opportunities come, they are taken. Money, The Constant Gardener, proves talks. The mystery of the film helps deliver us a worthwhile and compelling ending.

A love story told all in retrospect, while under the guise of Third World injustice, this is a film that, if you missed it, the first film around. Do not make that mistake again.

Extras
Deleted Scenes
Extended Scene: Haruna – Play in Kibera
Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya
John Le Carre: From Page to the Screen
Anatomy of a Global Thriller: Behind the Scenes of the Constant Gardener

With our extras, while the film is not barebones, there could have been more added here. What we do have in the featurettes are particularly strong, albeit short. With outstanding inclusions from the filmmaking team, the stand out is perhaps the John Le Carre piece as it is vital information for screenwriters who intend to adapt complicated books for the screen.

★★★1/2


Thriller | USA, 2005 | 18 | 22nd February 2021 (UK DVD) | Fabulous Films | Dir. Fernando Meirelles | Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston