A review of “The Constant Gardener” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for violence, language and nudity

Run Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes



Clandestine congregations, rumored infidelities and myriad conspiracy theories are up front and center in Fernando Meirelles’ (“City of God”) stylish thriller based on the John le Carré novel of the same name.

Dedicated political activist Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz) meets cute with conservative diplomat cum green thumb Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes). The pair’s unlikely union finds them stationed in Nairobi where Justin toils for the British High Commission.

Theirs is a matter of opposites attract, a core of affective knowledge bonding the fiery beauty and her unassuming mate. But Tessa’s fervor over the inequities in her adopted homeland causes a rift in the marriage that only their unborn child might heal.

Just as Tessa’s outspoken passion and angry suspicions regarding a mysterious pharmaceutical company’s crimes grow to a fever pitch she is found murdered in a remote part of Africa, where she is traveling with an African-American radical who may or may not be doubling as her lover.

Filled with remorse over his failure to commit to Tessa’s causes and their fragmented marriage, Justin surprises everyone by developing a social conscience, determined to finish what his ardent spouse has started. With steely determination he sets out on a treacherous journey to find out what made Tessa tick.

Not a popular concept among Justin’s co-workers, many of whom are harboring their own hidden agendas where Tessa and her ostensibly wild and wicked ways are concerned.

Meirelles’ style is still as fresh and distinct as it was in the blistering “God”; snappy hand-held camerawork as quick-cut as melodrama on acid. That tone isn’t keeping with the smooth covert atmosphere of classic le Carré but damn if it doesn’t ultimately work its magic on the narrative, proffering an anarchic aura that underscores the urgency of both Tessa’s and Justin’s insurgent odysseys. 

Weisz has fashioned a career out of fervent females; the persona suits her well. Fiennes makes one of his rare forays into the emotional minefield, demonstrating a flair for deep feeling even when it’s directed towards his hydrangeas and not his heart.

Smaller roles are filled by a plethora of talent from the shifty Danny Huston to perpetual scene-stealer Bill Nighy. Africa herself is a player; a proud beauty bleeding profusely from poverty and global neglect. Rich, eloquent and purposeful.