BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
What it’s about: Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a quiet British diplomat stationed in Kenya who finds himself sucked into a complex web of of lies and corruption as he unwinds the threads of his murdered wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) death. What he discovers takes him into the guts of stinking conspiracy where nothing can be taken at face value.
Who’s in it: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Hubert Kounde and Danny Huston
When it came out: 2005
How come you haven’t heard of (or just seen) it: Based on a novel, this is one of those films that you might have heard about during awards season and mistaken for the typical Merchant-Ivory British fare. While Weisz’s performance took home a number of awards, the film and the equally impressive performance by Fiennes got lost in the shadow of the controversial Brokeback Mountain and an overall fantastic year for actors (Capote, Walk the Line, and of course Brokeback).
Why you need to watch it immediately:
Often films that rely heavily on flashbacks for storytelling are confusing or gimmicky. The Constant Gardener succeeds primarily because of them. Justin, like the audience, learns about his late wife in fragments from other people. The juxtaposition of his discoveries with his memories of her propel the story while developing characters in a meaningful way.
Conspiracy films sometimes suffer for missteps in pacing–either the speed is too fast, or the build too slow. Either way the audience checks out. Director Fernando Meirelles turns Jeffrey Caines’ screenplay (based on the novel by John le Carre) into a slow-burning thriller that looks at tragedy on both the personal and global level.
Fiennes gives one of his most contained performances as Justin and arguably one of his finest. Unlike The English Patient or Schindler’s List, which are showier pieces for his talent, in The Constant Gardener he is restrained without ever feeling detached. It’s a must-see for Fiennes fans.
Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that those who have only experienced Nighy as Billy Mack or Davy Jones must see this performance to believe it. It’s chilling and now I’ve almost said too much.
Even as a Weisz fan (she’s my girl crush) I’ll admit that sometimes she comes across as too mannered. I wasn’t a fan, for example, of her work in Oz The Great and Powerful. The Constant Gardener strips her of the mannerisms and allows her to bloom as an actress. Tessa is a complicated, often irritating idealist. Weisz makes it easy for the audience and Justin to love her, despite her flaws. That’s always a tough sell.
It’s just good storytelling. Isn’t that more than enough?