Based on the John le Carre novel, The Constant Gardener is set in Northern Kenya where the impoverished citizens are treated like guinea pigs and exploited by their own government, foreign businessmen, and greedy drug companies. Kenyans are promised treatment for AIDS on the condition they take a tuberculosis vaccine thats just in the clinical testing stages. When some of the test subjects have a fatal reaction to the drug, their deaths are covered up in a conspiracy involving the British High Commission, pharmaceutical companies, and corrupt African officials.
The film opens with the news political activist Tessa Quayle (Weisz) has been brutally murdered and her traveling companion, Dr Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Kounde), is the primary suspect. Tessa and Arnold were rumored to be more than just work associates out to assist Africas poor; many suspected the two of being lovers.
Tessas pacifistic, unambitious, diplomat husband Justin (Fiennes) is devastated by the news of his wifes death. Surprising his friends and acting against type, Justins love for his deceased wife runs so deep hes left unwilling and unable to accept the quick findings of the British High Commission in regards to her murder. Where Tessa was fiery and passionate, Justins methodical and low-keyed. Yet despite his natural tendency to bury his head in the sand or as in this case, his beautiful garden - and ignore the unpleasantries of life in Africa, he emerges from his mousy, unengaged shell into a fierce lion out to protect the reputation of his wife. His suspicion that theres more to Tessas murder than a simple crime of passion perpetrated by Dr Bluhm leads him to uncover a shockingly far-reaching international conspiracy involving some of the well-respected wealthy men he considers his closest friends.
Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz compliment each other well onscreen, though its Fiennes who has the tougher duty of the two. Fiennes delivers a textured, nuanced performance as a man who reaches deep inside to call upon a previously untapped well of strength.
Rachel Weisz really nails the role of the fiery crusader who risks everything including her own life to fight for those without a voice. Weisz has never been given a role with quite this much depth and as Tessa, Weisz shows she does have impressive dramatic skills. Solid support is provided by Hubert Kounde, Danny Huston, and Bill Nighy, who each bring something special to their supporting roles.
Though The Constant Gardener could benefit from a little trimming and at times it feels as though you need a map to help figure out who is who, director Meirelles and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine both do a respectable job of bringing le Carres book, which chronicles the darker side of unbridled capitalism, to life. The film loses a little steam whenever it focuses on the romantic aspects of the story, but revives itself as the hunt for answers overtakes the need to tell the personal story of Justin and Tessa.
The Constant Gardener isnt a throw-away summer film. Its a complex, timely tale that spurs you into conversation at its conclusion. If you can be patient with the films slower parts, the payoff is worthwhile.
"The Constant Gardener" was directed by Fernando Meirelles and is rated R for language, some violent images, and sexual content/nudity.