The Constant Gardener: A Movie Review


I saw a whole bunch of movies this month, and I plan to talk about them shortly in a separate blog post, but since this was the very best of the lot, and because I loved it so much, I want to go into a little more detail on this one.

The Constant Gardener Movie Poster

The Constant Gardener Movie Poster

Billed as a thriller based on a John le Carré novel, I went in prepared to watch a taut edge of the seat kind of movie. What I wasn’t prepared for was how moving and beautiful the movie turned out to be.

The movie stars Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes, and is directed by Fernando Meirelles.

A brief synopsis of the Movie

Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a fairly shy, low-rung British diplomat, more interested in gardening than in his posting to Kenya, upholding flag and honor for the realm. His wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is a beautiful and impassioned activist.

His life of avoiding or making a fuss is completely overturned when he learns his wife has been found dead, gruesomely murdered, in a remote portion of the African veld.

Prompted by an inner vague unease, and general hints from people about Tessa’s infidelity, Justin tries to trace back his wife’s movements only to realize he never knew much about her at all, and also ends up opening a Pandora’s box of horrible things going on in Africa that have been shoved under the rug.

My Thoughts

I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but the movie is done so well, I wouldn’t be surprised if it surpasses the book in quality.

This movie is superficially a thriller, but it is also a movie about regrets, about not living life to the fullest, about the courage to stand up and tell the truth, and above all, it’s a haunting love story.

Unbearably lovely lead pair

Unbearably lovely lead pair

From the moment when the movie begins, we know it’s not going to end well.

A few minutes into the movie, Sandy Woodrow – Justin’s colleague comes to deliver the news that his wife Tessa has died somewhere on the banks of Lake Turkana. She was traveling with Arnold Bluhm, a doctor of African descent from Belgium, but he is nowhere to be found.

While Justin goes over her effects while cleaning up, he finds some stuff that indicates something was going on with Tessa. At first, he suspects a love affair between her and Bluhm, but soon he comes to realize that his wife was finding out too much information about a new experimental drug called Dyparxa. He slowly figures out what exactly was going on and determines to finish what she started. Despite a lot of warnings and advice

Leave this Justin. Go home.
I can’t go home. Tessa was my home.

he is unable to stop himself from investigating the case, and arguing (in his quiet way) for justice.

What I love about the movie

I think what I love most about the movie is the sense of conscience, and how Justin slowly evolves from being a regular guy who turns a blind eye to suffering thinking that someone else is taking care of it to someone who can no longer ignore the realities of life around him. Here are a couple of dialogues illustrating how Tessa’s death changes his outlook on things.

An argument he has with Tessa in the beginning of the movie

Justin Quayle: [Tessa tells Justin to slow down, wanting to drive a woman, her baby, and her brother who are walking 40 kilometers back to his home] We can’t involve ourselves in their lives, Tessa.
Tessa Quayle: Why.
Justin Quayle: Be reasonable. There are millions of people, they all need help. It’s what the agencies are here for.
Tessa Quayle: Yeah, but these are three people that we can help.

An argument he has with an aid worker towards the end of the movie

[Aid workers are being airlifted from a village ahead of band of raiders. Justin brings aboard a local village girl]

Jonah Andika: I’m sorry, I can’t take the girl.
Justin Quayle: I’m not leaving her!
Jonah Andika: We’re only allowed to evacuate aid workers.
Justin Quayle: To hell with what’s allowed! I’ll -look, how much do you want for her?
[pulls cash from pocket] Justin Quayle: There’s 800 dollars.
Jonah Andika: Don’t embarrass me! You can’t buy this. The rules are made for good reason. Please.
Justin Quayle: This is a child’s life! There are no rules to cover that!
Jonah Andika: Look, there are thousands of them out there. I can’t make an exception for this one child
Justin Quayle: Yes, but this is one we can help!

This movie won Rachel Weisz, a Best Supporting Actress Academy award, and I have to say, her performance though good, does not seem to deserve an actual award. That said, I am glad this movie got something. Overall, it’s a fantastically crafted movie, and the whole team did a great job – the acting, the cinematography, the script, the direction- everything was top-class. I loved it completely.

I watched this movie on an airplane (hardly ideal for watching this type of serious movie), but I definitely plan to re-watch it sometime on TV as well. I also want to read the book now.

Have you read the book? Watched the movie? Which is better?

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  • ava

    I did read the book. It was good. I like these actors. Hope I can watch the movie some time.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_oHqc5B2EoL:disqus: I am desperately looking for the book in my library. I hope it turns out as good as the movie.

  • Too Fond

    I loved this movie when I saw it at the cinema–so sad but so well done. I really need to watch it again.

    • Nishita

      @toofond:disqus I wish I had seen it at the cinema. The cinematography is lovely, it must have looked so wonderful on screen

  • I watched this movie years ago and it stuck with me. Ralph Fiennes’s character was very insular until he started digging into his wife’s life. I really liked how the movie showed that while you might not be able to change the world, you can help one person one day at a time.

    • Nishita

      @nrlymrtl:disqus I know, I loved that message too. It’s just a haunting movie in general, and I think Fiennes did an excellent job.

  • manjulika pramod

    Looks like a sad one but definitely very touching.. I quite like movies based on relationships and love..

    • Nishita

      @manjulikapramod:disqus You will love this one then. It’s sad but a beautiful story nevertheless

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