The Constant Gardener Review
By Joe Lozito
Even in his best performances - and there are several: "Schindler's List", "Quiz Show" and "The English Patient" come to mind - Ralph Fiennes always seems a bit standoffish. Maybe it's the oh-so-British accent or the severe European profile, but something about Mr. Fiennes tends to come off cold. Of course, for roles like the Commandant in "Schindler" that quality worked to his advantage. Mr. Fiennes has always been better at playing brains rather than heart.
However, from the opening moments of "The Constant Gardener", Fernando Meirelles' gripping adaptation of the John Le Carré novel, Mr. Fiennes dispels any doubt about his abilities in this arena. Playing Justin Quayle, a gardener stationed in Kenya whose wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz), an outspoken activist, is killed, Mr. Fiennes, drawing his lips inward and adding just a slight quaver to his voice, gives his finest performance in almost a decade.
After a slow build-up, the film follows Justin's quest to determine why and how Tessa was killed and whether there was some conspiracy behind it. Over the course of his very believable investigation, Justin begins to subtly understand his late wife in a way that he never could when she was alive - due both to his own naiveté and to her need to protect him. Mr. Fiennes' transformation is stunning to watch and makes the film engrossing through the last reel.
As he did in the equally affecting "City of God"
, Mr. Meirelles directs, with cinematographer César Charlone, with the immediacy of a documentary. His uses jumpcuts sparingly but effectively and has a handheld style that gives the film a visceral up-close-and-personal feel.
Ms. Weisz is effective, but slightly grating as Tessa. While that is the nature of her character, she is almost given too much screen time for a character killed in the opening ten minutes. The script by Jeffrey Caine ("Goldeneye", of all things) spends a little too much time getting off the ground, but once it does it delivers. It's a treat to watch a film that requires intelligence and attention and doesn't feel the need to drive home the answers to the many questions it poses.