The Constant Gardener (2005)
I wasn't too impressed with Fernando Meirelles critically acclaimed Cidade de Deus. I found it to be a bit too self-conscious and in the end, a bit too much message. His follow up, The Constant Gardener, brings action to Africa and western Europe, dealing with diplomacy and corruption, aristocrats and idealists. Based on the John Le Carré book, it looks into the world of pharmaceuticals and their business in the African countries that depend on them.
The film is delicately and skilfully constructed, combining the traditional premises of romance and thriller to clever effect. Some of the initial scenes between Fiennes and Weisz are delightfully loose and unrestrained, and the two leads show the abundance of talent they have between them. I only wish they would get even more to work with here, because as the film moves on, it becomes increasingly entangled in the well-treaded territory of conspiracy films, with the questions "Who can you trust?" and "Are things really as they appear?" being the ones we're expected to ask ourselves a bit too often.
Ultimately then, Meirelles' work again is too much message for my taste. Because if The Constant Gardener tried to hide its true self (and to good effect) in the opening half, then the closure it provides is soaked in message. It does, however, provide Bill Nighy with a fantastic parading scene, but it also gives our protagonist a somewhat unworthy exit. As with Syriana, one of the other major award contenders this season, The Constant Gardener has a cynical world view. But there's optimism in here as well, and at times Meirelles' film is a delight to watch. It makes use of the (at times) depleted effect of flashbacks in a beautiful and fresh way, giving the romance between Fiennes and Weisz both depth and some fine posthumous moments. I also liked the spontaneity of many of the Kenya scenes, some of them looking very ad lib (as opposed to some of the most crucial scenes in Cidade de Deus), and giving the film a very true spirit. If only Mereilles knew how to balance his agenda a bit more, The Constant Gardener could have been a very fine movie.