After meeting and marrying a young radical named Tessa (Rachel Weisz), docile British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) finds his political and social life turned upside down. During a turbulent stint in Africa, Tessa is brutally murdered, leaving behind a vast trail of unanswered questions and baffling clues that lead to pharmaceutical companies with an unhealthy interest in the poorest areas of Africa. His mind reeling with questions and rage, Justin risks his job and his life in an effort to probe further into Tessa's demise, discovering truths along the way that he can hardly comprehend.
Adapted from the John Le Carre novel, "The Constant Gardner" (IMDb listing) is director Fernando Meirelles' follow-up to the eye-opening sensation, "City of God." "Gardener" is a tale of suspense, grief, paranoia, and pleading, wrapped up in a chilling warning about the state of Africa. A wildly determined piece of cinema, "Gardener" ultimately takes on way too much and topples, though very admirably.
Mierelles is a lover of fractured visuals, and, as seen in "God," the man loves to throw his camera around. Because "Gardener" is about corruption and paranoia, the visual palette the filmmaker has chosen is one of disorder. Starting with a staccato narrative that jumps around in time to emphasize Justin's grieving and Tessa's personality change, Mierelles keeps his visuals fluid, not turning down a single angle opportunity, even if it takes the audience out of the picture. It's troubling to see an interesting, timely piece of fiction like "Gardener" be taken down the route of so many other films that elect to use chaos as a pedestrian way to convey intensity. With jump cuts, almost pathological hand-held camera work, and mucked-with cinematography, "Gardener" tires the eye long before the tale runs out of steam. It's easy to see what effect Mierelles is attempting with his cinema language, but "Gardener" is a strong enough tale to support a much sturdier, more organized approach to conspiracy and anguish.
Thankfully Mierelles has his actors, who pull off the complicated and enigmatic Le Carre world better than the director can. Ralph Fiennes is typically note-perfect in the role of Justin, mashing up diplomatic courtesy and revenge-obsessed rage in a nice little mix that helps the film's core mystery seem more appealing that it really is. Danny Houston also contributes sly work as Quayle's slimy confidant. While given limited screen time, Rachel Weisz is the heart of "Gardener," with the actress giving a fresh spin on frustrated suspicion and stubbornness in her tricky role. Setting the plot in motion, Weisz earns her place as the core of the film, and provides the critical empathy Mierelles is missing by a mile.
Mierelles does capture the beauty and hell of Africa in vivid locations that seem almost too impossible to be real. For this, "Gardener" excels at detailing the cataclysmic poverty swallowing the continent. Between the plot, which emphasizes the fleecing of Africa by pharmaceutical corporate vultures, and the photography, "Gardener" becomes lost in its many positions. Unfortunately, the film borders on preaching when it should be more concerned about the numerous dramatic threads that are rapidly beginning to fray.
Filmfodder Grade: C-