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February 15, 2006 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-15

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8 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, February 15, 2006


'Gardener' still a knockout



By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer

Only the best movies can engage
audiences intellectually while also
entertaining them.
"The Constant The Constant
Gardener," a rivet- Gardener
ing spy thriller set
in the callous and Focus
convoluted world
of pharmaceutical companies in Africa,
is among the rare films that achieve this
effect. Though it's fictional, it has power-
ful impact on the real world, potentially
sparking inquiry among viewers into its
depiction of African exploitation.
Academy Award nominee Ralph
Fiennes ("The English Patient") stars as
Justin Quayle, a low-level, low-key British
diplomat with an explosively humanitar-
ian wife, Tessa (newly crowned Golden
Globes winner and Oscar nominee for
best supporting actress Rachel Weisz,
"Constantine"). When Tessa is brutally
murdered in a remote region of Kenya,
Justin embarks on a mission to uncover
what happened to her and why. During
the course of his voyage, he discovers the
brutality of big pharmaceutical compa-
nies, who may have gone as far as murder
to turn a profit. But Justin's greatest sur-
prises await him closer to home, as the
circumstances of his wife's life and death
become even more mysterious.
Political implications aside, "The
Constant Gardener" functions perfectly
on one level as a spy thriller. Much like

another of last year's best political films,
Steven Spielberg's "Munich," the mov-
ie's overtones deal directly with political
policies and actions. It's so well made,
though, that even those who are com-
pletely oblivious to these themes will be
captivated. Still, a complete appreciation
of the movie lies in the audience's will-
ingness to be receptive to the extratextual
relevance of the storyline.
"The Constant Gardener" pulls no
punches, and is, even by director Fer-
nando Meirelle's ("City of God") account,
a highly exaggerated portrayal. But the
hyperbolic emphasis works excellently
here. As was the case in still another high-
ly charged social commentary from last
year, "Crash," the exaggeration is never
denied, yet the message comes out loud
and clear. Maybe drug companies don't
actually kill AIDS patients in Africa, but
the mere fact that the public knows so lit-
tle about the situation is enough to under-
score the importance of the film.
Both lead actors are exceptional and
add natural touches to their characters
almost flawlessly. Fiennes's portrayal of a
simple-minded outsider's understandable
naivete to the dire situation is perfect and
only slightly bettered by Weisz's strong
eminence of unbridled passion for righ-
teousness. Certainly, neither character is
realistic, but that's beside the point.
The movie embraces Africa as a whole
in a way few other films approach their
locations. This is, after all, an allegori-
cal reflection on the way things are done
in Africa. Indeed, many of the special
features - such as the extended scene
and the featurette "Embracing Africa:

C~ourtesy 0of1Focus
"Be honest - the extensions aren't
working for me, are they?"
Filming in Kenya" - are devoted to
enhancing the connection between the
viewer and the forgotten continent and
its people. All of the special featurettes
and deleted scenes add to the experience
of the film, a rarity to say the least.
With its nonlinear, disruptive flow,
"The Constant Gardener" comes through
even clearer than the filmmakers could
have imagined. Through struggling" to
understand what is flashback and what
is fact, the viewer can appreciate how
complex actual diplomatic efforts have
become. Its critical focus on Africa,
the region everyone has forgotten, this
alone is enough to rank this among the
year's best films.
Film: ****I
Special Features: ****



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