Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Constant Gardener

2005, UK, directed by Fernando Meirelles

Someone clearly forgot to give Fernando Meirelles the standard movie playbook on the adventures of white folk in tropical locations, for he's crafted an arrestingly original film from John Le Carré's book; only Graham Greene provides an adequately acid precursor, particularly in the form of Phillip Noyce's 2002 version of The Quiet American. This is bang-up-to-date tale of drug-testing by Western pharmacutical companies in Kenya, with minimal regard to medical ethics. Ralph Fiennes plays Justin Quayle, a minor British diplomat in Nairobi, recently married to a vibrant young woman (Tessa, played with great commitment by Rachel Weisz), who quickly involves herself in local health politics and upsets more than a few people in the process. The film opens, more or less, with Tessa's death, in suspicious circumstances, and the remainder of the action cross-cuts scenes from her marriage (Justin and Tessa marry so quickly that their marriage is more the tale of their getting to know one another) with Justin's attempts to find out the truth about her. In the process, he displays a far more steely streak than we - or perhaps he - imagined him to possess. Unlike many films set in exotic locales, Africa is anything but a backdrop: Meirelles shoots in some of Nairobi's grittiest slums, and there's a grim, absolutely unsentimental realism to everything we see (hardly surprising from the (co?) director of City of God). Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as the increasingly dogged Justin, and he's surrounded by a cast of fine character actors, particularly Danny Huston, Bill Nighy and Gerard McSorley, all of whose characters have their hands dirty to varying degrees; Huston, in particular, is outstandingly unsettling. This is a rare piece of genuinely political filmmaking: deliberately unsettling, with a grimly unhappy conclusion that underlines at least some of the realities of the West's relationship with Africa.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States