Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Constant Gardener (2005)

“From the novel by John le Carré.” Not words calculated to make me go to a movie. That could be due to my snobbishness, or early exposure to Tom Clancy-based films. But then there’s this: “From the director of City of God.” Oh. Okay.

The Constant Gardener is hands-down the smartest espionage thriller I’ve ever seen. I’m rarely patient with suspense films with patently retarded, retreaded premises. I’m tired of the blatant manipulation required to make these things work. When I left the theater after this movie and felt that wave of paranoia coming on, my husband and I said, wait. We should feel this way. If not for ourselves, then for our world.

Fernando Meirelles has taken his personal stake in the way people live when they’re not us, added Ralph Fiennes and some other people, and made an international horror film I can both understand and enjoy. I have no doubt that the kinds of things that happen in this movie happen somewhere all the time; maybe not in such dramatic fashion, but is anyone going to argue that huge drug companies are completely benign, helpful entities? The director spends a lot of time with the people in Africa affected by the actions of these companies and the governments who shield them, and a story which could have been a pointless exercise in “man thinks wife is hiding something. Wife disappears. Husband finds out she was hiding something, but it wasn’t an affair, it was a global conspiracy and he must be a hero!” becomes an actual film.

In too many of these things, the hero(ine) gets involved over his head and suddenly discovers untold survival skills and/or moral indignation. Here, Fiennes is set up from the beginning to grow into the character he becomes: as a proxy lecturer mouthing the self-praise of a higher-ranking diplomat, he encounters a feisty woman who challenges him yet excites his interest and protective instincts. She responds to this, they fall in love, and get married. This is a man who works for The Man, yet is receptive to the Truth when exposed to it. Unfortunately for all involved, some Truths end in marriage and some in death. We are never asked to believe anything of these people that hasn’t been accounted for. And for that, I am thankful. I got a smart, relevant, entertaining film that I don’t have to be a film buff to like. And I can finally say I like one of these thriller things.

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