I’m sure there are people that are going to love this film; I’m not one of them. Even the strong pefromances from the two leads can’t quite save The Constant Gardener from being both boring and predictable – two words you don’t want to describe a dramatic thriller.
The Constant Gardener
Some novels can be adapted to screen successfully and some cannot. The Constant Gardener belongs in the second category. The structure for the movie might work in a novel but here the story just gets bogged down. The film is oddly spliced together with flashbacks in an attempt to try and make the obvious seem murky and mysterious. Too bad the end result just makes it look lame. It’s sad such great leading performances were wasted on such a bad script.
The film begins with the discovery of the body of Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz) who has been brutally murdered in the Kenyan countryside. From there the film moves through flashbacks of Tessa’s life mixed with her husband Justin’s (Ralph Fiennes) attempt to discover why she was killed and what became of her companion Arnold (Hubert Kounde) who has disappeared. Unwilling to accept the official explanation of Tessa’s death being a result of an affair between Tessa and Arnold who must have killed her in a passionate rage, Justin decides to conduct his own investigation and learns that Tessa’s death wasn’t caused by anything so simple.
Let’s start out with the perfromances which are outstanding. Fiennes is well chosen for the bitter and remorseful character who will stop at nothing to discover the truth. Weisz who we only see in flashbacks though is the real heart of the film. Her character is the only one from the film that is complex and three dimensional and whose feelings and actions have consequences not just to herself but to her husband and the world around her.
Aside from the acting the films problems are numerous. First off the flashbacks reveal too much of Tessa’s character for the audience not to realize what she really died for and the cause itself can be easily deduced very early in the film. Second the scenes involving the meeting of the two seem to suggest a relationship of convience which would hardly justify Justin’s odyssey later in the film. Third the scenes of Tessa’s possible infedelities don’t work because the relationship with Justin isn’t developed far enough and the film is too cavalier in giving away more information than is necessary. And finally the choice in editing makes the film too helter skielter. It was obviously chosen to try and hide the extremely simple answer to the “mystery” of Tessa’s death, but not only does it not succeed in covering the truth it only detaches the viewer from the film.
The movie was adapted from the novel by John le Carre and I don’t doubt that the story might make a very good novel where such information and clues can be spaced out over chapters. In a compacted theatrical version the mystery just doesn’t work. If Justin knew anything about his wife he would be easily able to deduce what happened to her, but the film tries to make Justin totally oblivious to who his wife was and what she was up to. The result becomes a series of flashbacks between the two where we learn everything about Tessa while Justin stands there totally oblivous. If he’s really that dense, how’s he suppossed to solve her murder?
The film just doesn’t work as a thriller because the structure continually takes the viewer out of the story. The film doesn’t work as a mystery because the reasons for the death can easily be deduced just by learning a fraction of who Tessa was. The drama doesn’t work because neither the love story nor Tessa’s murder seem enough to push the action of the film that develops into a weak Bourne Identity as Justin becomes an expert on covert tatics, surveillance, and digging for the truth (none of which are needed for this very simple plot). The film tries every trick it can using red herrings, odd editing, and plot contivances to hide what is essentially rather obvious.