'Gardener' Oscar-worthy flick

By Nate Buchik
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 8, 2005

Fernando Meirelles is two for two.

The "City of God" director earned an Oscar nomination for his first major feature film, and, if the academy can remember him six months from now, pencil him in for another.

"The Constant Gardener" is the best film to be released so far this year, and although it's a thriller on the surface, it goes as deep into politics and love as you would expect from Meirelles.

The film begins with the news that British diplomat Justin Quayle's (Ralph Fiennes) wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) has been brutally murdered. From there, the film moves to the past as Justin and Tessa meet for the first time. Flashbacks are abundant as they tell the story of Justin and Tessa's romance and their move to Kenya.The country plays an important role in the story, as Tessa is passionate about helping the disadvantaged community, while Justin does mostly gardening at their house, occasionally working as Britain's AIDS ambassador.

After Tessa is murdered, Justin finds information that makes him suspect there was something more to her death. He initially suspects infidelity on her part but then learns more about how she was spending her time in Kenya. Tessa had in fact been digging too far into the dealings of a big pharmaceutical company that was selling its product to unhealthy Kenyan people. While it's immediately clear that the pharmaceutical companies had something to do with the death, it's exciting to see Justin retrace Tessa's steps and find out about government corruption and backstabbing from his friends. He also seems to find out more about their relationship at each and every turn. Based on the novel by John Le Carré and skillfully adapted by Jeffrey Caine, the story is equal parts intrigue and beauty.

See It

8 out of 10
Rated R
129 Minutes
Focus Features

Meirelles is showing himself to be quite the auteur, with a passion for filmmaking that few others have. He is one of the rare filmmakers who are out to do much more than entertain, although he sure can do that. He is out to change the world, by representing those who don't have a voice. The editing of the film, moving back and forth in time, is gracefully done. It's shot exclusively handheld, and director of photography César Charlone uses rack focus and extreme close-ups to make the story pop. This aesthetic better matches the gritty, urban subject matter of "City of God," but still works well in "The Constant Gardener."

Fiennes is in top form here, as he hasn't been since 1996's "The English Patient." Most of his recent work has been in theater, but "Gardener" marks his triumphant return to cinema. Weisz is also strong, as is the supporting cast. But the other star here is the country of Kenya. Much as Meirelles made the streets and people of Brazil a key player in "City of God," Kenya is both beautiful and heartbreaking, depending on where and when we are in the story.

It's just too bad Kenya can't get more roles.

At least we know Meirelles is sure to return to the screen.