Daniele Harford

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The Constant Gardener Review


Bad
She's a bleeding heart radical who opposes the Iraq war and feels terrible about poor HIV-inflicted Kenyans. He's a stodgy establishment lackey working for the British High Commission who loves to mind his own business and tend to his gardens. Together, Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) uncover an insidious plot orchestrated by pharmaceutical conglomerates in Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener, a hybrid of '70s-era thrillers like The Parallax View and this year's pro-U.N. fiasco The Interpreter. Adapted from John le Carré's novel, Meirelles' follow-up to his critically overpraised City of God is a concoction of paranoia-drenched conspiracy theories and white liberal guilt over Africa that purports to sympathize with the plight of impoverished Kenyans, but whose real agenda is the vilification of evil Western corporations and the celebration of Africa-loving white martyrs. Infested with mournful close-ups of smiling indigenous kids, Meirelles' film demands that we feel both sorrow over Africa's burgeoning AIDS crisis and fury over the superpowers' sinister refusal to truly help. Primarily, however, his film cares no more about Africa than do the story's evil villains at make-believe drug company FDH.

Collaborating with his City of God cinematographer César Charlone, Meirellas once again fetishistically focuses on destitution and suffering, shooting his squalid Kenyan locations in grimy, slightly overexposed colors and with expressionistic camera angles, turning the beautiful landscape into a harsh pit of fluorescent yellows, rotting greens, stark blacks, and blooming whites. It's a phony-baloney (if striking) visual aesthetic that, when married to the director's rollercoaster-ish hand-held cinematography, provides a sense of both immediacy and self-conscious artistry. Yet no amount of stylistic showing-off can offset the ludicrousness of a love scene between Justin and Tessa - shot in downy hues, it looks like a L'Oreal commercial with excessive zooms - or the preposterousness of Jeffrey Caine's clunky, preachy script, which gussies up its straightforward mystery with numerous flashbacks but fails to confront its central issues of African poverty and corporate malfeasance with anything approaching a rational mind.

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Daniele Harford

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