Africa is slowly being featured in more and more mainstream films, although two, the other being "Hotel Rwanda," is not exactly a number to scream about. Regardless, the drug controversy in Africa is given a scathing review in "The Constant Gardener," an intriguing, intoxicating and visually stimulating drama-thriller from the director behind "City of God."
Fernando Meirelles, who made a name for himself with "City of God," which, to no surprise, was also intriguing, intoxicating and visually stimulating, has delivered another near masterpiece here. While a little slow in a few parts, "The Constant Gardener" takes the thriller genre to the new level by introducing deep characters, a rich and meaningful story and great camerawork that is both gritty and beautiful simultaneously. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and every shot seems to have a life of its own. At the same time, Meirelles does not shy away from death or despair the way so many filmmakers do; he throws it in your face and makes you see what the characters are seeing.
Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz star in this thriller-that-is-at-the-same-time-a-drama, but I'll tell you right off the bat that Weisz dies. No, I didn't spoil the movie for you, as she dies in the first five minutes of the movie. And, for Rachel Weisz fans, don't turn away now, because she is prominent in several major flashbacks that take up much of the first half of the film. The acting, as you'd expect from these two talented people, is top notch. Weisz is good, but Fiennes steals the show with his quietly furious mannerisms.
Furthermore, the actors are graced with a terrific script and a powerful story of political corruption and corporate murder. Are Africans worth less to us than people in other countries? Than white people? Before you answer "no," sit back and think about it for a minute. Yes, the answer's disheartening, but sadly true. Meirelles explores these thoughts that impoverished black people are considered as lesser beings, and can be used as test subjects for experimental new TB drugs.
There are a few parts, especially toward the end of the second act, where the movie does drag for a few minutes. Every once in a while, just when the movie is becoming thrilling, Meirelles steps back all of a sudden and slows the pace of the film down. The effects aren't huge, but noticeable. It will be interesting to see if Meirelles, if he does more thrillers in the future, will manage the pacing a little better.
"The Constant Gardener" is a great film with a horrible title that will probably be overlooked by many, but it shouldn't be. Though not perfect, it definitely is one of the highlights of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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