Originally posted 1/29/2012
My husband and I found ourselves at home with our son last night; he was in the mood for a movie. The Saturday night presence of our eighteen year old is such a rarity that we joyfully acquiesced. He gave us choices: Marathon Man, The Constant Gardener, and a French film, the title of which I've forgotten. Apparently all three were available instantly on Netflix.
Not having seen it, and because it wasn't subtitled, we chose The Constant Gardener based on the book by John LeCarre. Since we'd all seen and been crazy about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this seemed a good choice.
The film, starring a luminous, ebullient Rachel Weisz as Tessa, a human rights activist, and Ralph Fiennes, as Justin Quayle, the quintessential, self-effacing, polite British diplomat, more than met our expectations. Set in Kenya, where Quayle is stationed, the story revolves around the murder of Tessa, and the whereabouts Dr. Bluhm, her African colleague played by Hubert Kounde. Tessa and Dr. Bluhm have uncovered the big pharmacutical's company's use of powerless Kenya people as medical guineapigs; in order to get their AIDS medication (a simple fact of life in this part of the world) they must also take medicine which is part of a TB test case. The fact that the drug is killing people is ignored; after all these are simply Kenyan natives - who cares what happens to them?
The entire cast was exceptional. Weisz is so beautifully natural as the pregnant Tessa, the makeup department have equalled the actress' in their job. The pregnancy prosthetic is so believable, I'm still not quite sure she wasn't really pregnant. Aside from that, her eyes, her mouth speak volumes. What a wonderful contrast to the very restrained Fiennes. As the gentle garden loving Quayle, Fiennes is so polite, so caring about others,that when Sandy tells him his wife may have been murdered, he says "Thanks for telling me Sandy. That must have been difficult for you." During the course of the film Fiennes grows some bigger cojones and is relentless in tracking down the truth. Danny Huston as Sandy, the British High Commissioner, Justin's boss is at once pathetic and manipulative. Bill Nighy as Pellegrin, the top man at the Foreign Office "Africa desk'." is absolutely and blithely ruthless.
As with all things LeCarre, it isn't easy. You have to have your head turned on to follow the story but it's worth it if you do! And sadly, the whole bleak picture rings so very true. Of course, big drug companies are taking advantage of this huge pool of voiceless people. It is all too easy to see that corruption, money and power wins the day every day, leaving the victims to endure their short, sad, overcrowded, poverty stricken lives.
Rachel Weisz won the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her passionate performance in The Constant Gardener which was also nominated for the screenplay based on John LeCarre's novel. We like to complain it wasn't as good as the book. Sometimes it is.
You can stream The Constant Gardener on iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, GooglePlay and Amazon for $2.99. Not a bad price for a Saturday Matinee.