The Constant Gardener is a 2005 movie directed by Fernando Meirelles, inspired by a novel written by John le Carré. The two main protagonists are Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz and the cast also includes actors such as Donald Sumpter and Pete Postlethwaite! That is, it’s not a movie that may easily go unnoticed. Moreover, the themes it touches are not at all trivial: what do pharmaceutical multinationals do in the poorest countries of Africa? Do they act out of altruism, or do they have different motivations?
So… is it a good movie? There are many positive things, but I don’t think that it succeeds in all it proposes itself to do. Let me explain. Rachel Weisz is splendidly cast in her role: young, idealist, honest. We see her without makeup, as the character dictates, spontaneous… her performance is really impressive. Ralph Fiennes, a great actor (you certainly remember him in Strange Days, 1995, and in Schindler’s List, 1993, for example), is very subdued. This is what his role requires him to do: he’s the quiet gardener, as opposed to the exuberant Rachel Weisz… but not even in the second part of the movie he looses his temper, even when he’s told astonishing things! I found it a bit forced.
The theme of the movie is worth exploring, as it’s the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the Third World. Luckily, the movie treats it in a non-trivial way. However, it doesn’t even examine it in depth. In the movie, there are several characters that we barely see and whose roles we can imagine, but we can hardly grasp their motivations. For example, at times I was able to recognize some of the characters only because I recognized the actors, not because I remembered their characters’ roles in the movie!
The direction of the movie alternates between a documentary-style with a lot of hand-held camera and a more conventional style, and comes across as a bit confusing.
The soundtrack is simply amazing. The cinematography is also very good and perfectly captures the harshness of Kenya (where most of the movie was shot – kudos for that!) as opposed to the cold London which is prominent in the central part of the movie. The continuous use of flashbacks e flash-forwards is also interesting, and in no way confusing for the audience. But at the end of the movie I felt a sense of incompleteness. I’m happy that this movie exists, and it’s clear that those involved in its production did serious research on the role played by Big Pharma in Africa, but at the same time I don’t think that the movie is able to pass a strong message about it.
Did Meirelles want to make a movie exposing something morally dubious or straight away illegal? The dedication to Yvette Pierpaoli, the French humanitarian who died in Albania in 1999, suggests that this is the case… or maybe not? I don’t know. Basically, I find the movie interesting, but I feel that it could have been more than that.
Thus: there are things that I liked and others that I didn’t like, but at the end I’m glad I saw The constant gardener. Recommended! Ciao!