244 – The Constant Gardener

Ralph Fiennes plays a reserved British diplomat (and gardener of the title) whose activist wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is murdered in deepest, darkest Africa. Who did it? Was it her driver and partner-in-outrage? Was it a group of bandits, common in the area? Was it a sinister government operative?

Justin Quayle is haunted by the suspicion that his wife had been unfaithful in the months preceding her death. He knows that she had been working with local AIDS activists in Kenya, but after her death he decides to look into the matter a bit more carefully, deciding against leaving the matter in the hands of the British High Commission, for which he works. This laconic gardener tries desperately to understand what his wife was up to, and perhaps who or what caused her imminent demise.

Fiennes is excellent as the quiet Justin, a man who’s always been resigned to circumstances – as opposed to Tessa, who’s always shaped her own circumstances. Fiennes has a very expressive face, saying so much with so few words, that one does get a fuller sense of what his character was going through – and what he was up against. But in this movie, he takes a backseat to the acting chops of Rachel Weisz – who knew? I mean, who could tell that the strong female sidekick of movies like The Mummy and Constantine, the requisite love interest, would outact Ralph Fiennes, who seems to be a perennial Oscar contender?

The gripping story, adapted by Jeffrey Caine from John Le Carre’s novel, takes the viewer through several areas of Africa and Europe, spectacularly filmed (particularly the final scenes). Sure, it’s a Le Carre novel, but the beautiful cinematography and crisp editing – not to mention the timeliness of the plot, in a world full of conspiracies du jour – make all of the events seem chillingly plausible. The dual themes of love and betrayal are well represented here.

Weisz was nominated for an Oscar, and the movie also received nods for best adapted screenplay, best original score, and best editing.

The Constant Gardener: ***

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