Constant Gardener (The)
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Shahir Daud (1st March 2006).
The Film

It seems to be the year of the Hollywood political thriller. And far from the bad old days of Tom Clancy‘s action bang ups with dubiously motivated foreign terrorists invading American soil, the major political thrillers from Hollywood today (Munich (2005) and Syriana (2005) amongst others) seem to have their sights squarely pointed on the home turf. It’s simplistic to equate this with unease with current geopolitical movements, but with such enormous shifts in thinking about government, business and international politics taking place every day, it’s hard to dismiss the link between the current US Administration’s low approval ratings and the trend to fuse polemic and narrative by Hollywood filmmakers.
And while Fernando Meirelles adaptation of John le Carre’s The Constant Gardner has the UK administration in its sights, its major target is Big Pharma, whose multinational roots make it a global issue. Using the fractured narrative style that he employed so skilfully in his directorial debut City of God (2002), Meirelles chronicles Justin Quayles (Ralph Fiennes) search for his wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) murderer, while uncovering a much larger plot to use the African population as testers for new drugs. Inter-cutting between their meeting and his investigation, Meirelles foregrounds Justin and Tessa’s relationship, leading Justin into the heart of darkness so to speak, and illuminating the path of righteousness his wife so vehemently seeks to preserve.
I’ll be the first to admit that while City of God was a slick, brilliantly edited film, it veered towards exploitation occasionally, and belied Meirelles mastery over the medium rather than his command of ethical storytelling. Thankfully then, Meirelles seems to have curtailed his tricks and played the story straight, never once opting for style over substance. Considering his selection for this big budget adaptation was probably based on the worldwide success of City of God, he’s resiled himself to the importance of its story with remarkable maturity.
Still there is the occasional smack of Western interpretation at play here. The African’s are still largely romanticized figures who stereotypically silently accept their fate at the hands of British conglomerates, or as the case may be, are blissfully unaware of their plight until Westerners point it out to them. And while genuine African films about their country are shamefully left undistributed, try and see Moolaade (2004) or Tsotsi (2005) rather than Hotel Rwanda (2004). The fact that some films are at least attempting to show the impact of western colonisation on African nations is noteworthy, and is a far cry from the days of The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). And while the emotional devastation of Justin’s quest is so heartbreaking, its easy to forget the hordes of poverty stricken African’s in the background of this film who don’t have the luxury of heartfelt reprisals or even retribution against the big corporations which impact their lives so profoundly. In the end, the only sour note the film hits is its slightly easy resolution, which allocates blame on a handful of single greedy individuals rather than the bigger institutions around them.
In my humble opinion, the film that most effectively captures the complexity of globalisation in its field is Steve Gaghan‘s Syriana, but The Constant Gardner is certainly the film with the most heart, which beats along thanks to the superb performances from its leads. Weisz is becoming a versatile leading lady, who haunts this film in every frame, while Fiennes, who has always managed to unassumingly command the screen turns in another understated performance that manages to convey every possible emotion, without ever becoming ‘showy’.
If anything, this year’s batch of political thrillers have reinvigorated the possibilities of narrative cinema alongside its documentary counterparts. With far reaching distribution and worldwide exposure, films like The Constant Gardner are less temporary diversions and instead, startlingly effect political messages, which manage to convey so much more than a politician ever could.

Video

Presented in the film’s original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, this anamorphic transfer is just about as perfect as it can get. One thing to note is that this film is largely handheld and is presented in various color schemes from rich to slightly oversaturated to muted and desaturated. Having viewed the film theatrically several times I can say with near certainty that Universal have presented this film exactly as it was intended to be seen by the director and cinematographer. Colors are accurately presented, blacks are infinitely deep and shadow detail is spot on and consistent throughout the print. I could not detect any flaws in this transfer, nice job Universal.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included on this release they are an English Dolby Digital 5.1 and a French Dolby Digital 5.1, for the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. This film is mainly dialogue based, but occasionally includes some driving sequences, plane sequences and the occasional gun shot and crowd shot. The activity is infectious; you truly believe you are in Africa, from directional effects to wind and dust hitting sheet metal surfaces of huts are accurately placed throughout the sound space. The music is equally pleasantly mixed and makes use of all the channels without feeling out of place and overbearing any of the dialogue. I am very pleased with this solid sound effort, I just wish I can hear this film in DTS one day (Universal are you listening, please release more films in DTS!).
The DVD includes optional subtitles in English for the hard of hearing as well as French and Spanish.

Extras

First up are 4 deleted scenes, These play in a reel once selected and include:
- The first scene runs for 1 minute 7 seconds and sees Sandy (Danny Huston) and his wife Gloria (Juliet Aubrey) having breakfast outside and talking about Justin and the fact that Tessa is having her child in an African hospital.
- The second scene runs for 5 minutes 14 seconds, here Justin travels to Canada to talk to a KDH Pharma employee about the dangers of the drug Dypraxa, she informs him of the failed trials the drug has had. As soon as she divulges the information she is run over by a car which has been following them.
- The third scene runs for 57 seconds, Kenny Curtiss (Gerard McSorley) bursts into Sandy’s office at the British High Commission and demands to see a man named Porter.
- The fourth and final scene runs for 3 minutes 13 seconds, here we see an African villager riding his bike through the village and off to work. This is basically an omitted montage clip.

An extended scene follows entitled "Haruma - Play In Kibera" this scene runs for 9 minutes 41 seconds, we see additional footage from the play the villager put on which appears briefly in the final film.

The featurette "Embracing Africa: Filming In Kenya" is next and runs for 9 minutes 29 seconds. Here we learn about the film’s locations, in the book it was written that the story predominantly takes place in Kenya, the filmmakers assumed they’d shoot in South Africa (because it’s has film facilities and is much more modernised) but when visiting Kenya they decided that it had to be shot there. The people welcomed the production and were involved throughout. Additionally, the cast and crew speak fondly about their experience there.

Next up is the John le Carre: From Page to the Screen" featurette, which runs for 8 minutes 8 seconds. In this piece we take a look at the process it took from book to screen, how the producers were introduced to the novel and the steps taken to adapt it and create a film version.

"Anatomy Of A Global Thriller: Behind The Scenes Of 'The Constant Gardener'" is the next featurette and runs for 11 minutes 52 seconds, this is your standard EPK style fluff piece. The clip covers the storyline, the cast discuss their characters and we take another look at the location shooting in Kenya. There is some repetition here but overall it provides a concise look at the film in general.

The DVD launches with a few bonus trailers for "Brick" which runs for 2 minutes 28 seconds, "Cinderella Man" for 34 seconds, and promos for Focus Features that runs for 1 minute 48 seconds and "Law and Order" NBC spot for 12 seconds. These can all be skipped by pressing the Menu button on your remote.

Although these extras are alright, I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted more. I’d love to have seen a decent feature-length making-of documentary and perhaps a commentary from the cast and crew. These would have made for excellent supplements contributing to a rather nice edition. As much as I hate double-dipping I can’t help but think that this release really needs a decent Special Edition. However, in the meantime this current selection of extras will have to do.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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