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The Constant Gardener
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Fernando Meirelles is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors.  I figured City of God would be all he had in him.  Sort of like John Singleton, who wowed us with Boyz N The Hood, only to go on to direct 2 Fast 2 Furious a decade later ... and that was his comeback.  After watching The Constant Gardener, I doubt Meirelles will be on board for 3 Times Faster and 3 Times More Furious X 3.  Not only did he live up to the amazing City of God with The Constant Gardener -- he surpassed it. 

The Constant Gardener was a film destined to fail.  It was too ambitious.  It took too much on.  How could a movie as layered as Gardener possibly work?  It is simultaneously a character study, a romance, a mystery, a political intrigue, a thriller and a scathing piece of social commentary.  This multi-faceted masterpiece works successfully on more levels than any ten remakes or sequels pumped out of the habitual humdrum Hollywood hit machine.

Only Revenge of the Sith and Sin City crawl above The Constant Gardener in my top 10 of 2005 list.  Revenge of the Sith because I'm a shameless Star Wars' fanboy who's thrilled Lucas ended his saga in nearly as powerful and exciting a way as he began the thing.  Sin City because the visuals blew me away in a way I haven't been blown since one of my first girlfriends read that swallowing semen at least 5 times a week improved a woman's complexion and slowed the aging process by 20%. 

My love of The Constant Gardener has nothing to do with fanboyism or fond memories of blowjobs past.  I like it for the "real" reasons the Uppity Critic's Handbook claims critics are supposed to like movies (who wrote this handbook anyway, and can anyone find a way to send them to Gitmo for eternity, where they're forced to watch nothing but Adam Sandler movies?).  The writing, the acting, the directing, the cinematography -- all the things that are supposed to make a movie good make this movie great.

As a thriller, the film is intense as hell.  As a romance, it's quite possibly the most touching movie of 2005.  As a mystery, it keeps you guessing.  As a character piece, it involves you and makes you care for nearly everyone in the picture.  As a political intrigue, it will keep you intrigued and in awe over how they don't dumb down the politics for a mainstream crowd.  As a social commentary, it is simply shocking. 

It's shocking a film could get away with casting as negative light on the big pharmaceutical companies as The Constant Gardener does.  It's no wonder the film wasn't shot in the United States.  Big Pharma is chilling (I had hoped Michael Moore would have gotten his next documentary, Sicko, about the industry, released by the end of 2005, as originally planned).  The bastards kill us by keeping us alive, and American politicians lift more and more regulations on the pricks every day.

Due to epilepsy and high cholesterol, I take a jaw-dropping amount of meds twice daily.  Many of these are fairly new medications, released in the past 2 or 3 years.  Needless to say, this movie scared the hell out of me.  It reinforced my opinions of how Big Pharma does business.  It also revealed how far they're willing to go to stop people from exposing the truth about them.  They have their lobbyists, their Government contacts, their billion dollar ad campaigns, and their -- if this film is to be taken as anything more than a fictional thriller -- professional hit men.

The movie begins with the murder of Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz -- looking hot, as always. Acting hotter.  And playing preggers.).  Tessa wasn't willing to keep her mouth shut when it came to exploiting Africans for drug testing.  Could Big Pharma be behind her death?  Could the Government be deliberately looking the other way, in exchange for a paycheck?  Could the Government be involved?!? 

Tessa was onto something when she died.  She had discovered side-effects to a medication that was being tested on Africans for TB to be sold worldwide.  She submitted a report, but the drug company would have had to go back and work out the chinks in the armor of their wonder-drug.  This would take them a couple of years to fix, letting the competition get a leg up on them.  In the world of Big Pharma, all that matters is profit, and being first.  As long as the shareholders are pleased, who cares how many lives are lost? 

Tessa was apparently killed for her discovery.  When her husband, Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes, in an incredible performance, even if he doesn't get pregnant and nude) goes through the few things she left behind that weren't already stolen by whomever wants to keep her discoveries secret, and finds she left a trail of clues, almost like Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs.  He sees that his wife wasn't just a conspiracy theorist -- she had discovered some cold, hard facts. 

Justin decides to pick up the mystery where his deceased love left off and becomes determined to find out just what was going on.  Why were Africans being used as guinea pigs for a drug company?  Why wasn't the American or European Governments doing anything about it?  How could the world be unjust enough to make these impoverished people agree to take the experimental drug, or not be treated medically at all? 

Even after violent threats on his life, Justin continues to go after the truth.  This mystery will be solved.  If not for himself, for his wife.  If not for his wife, for the innocent humans being used as science experiments in Africa.  If not for the Africans, for the citizens of the world, who will be swallowing these poorly tested pills.  Where does his investigation take him?  To reveal that would be a spoiler far too big to give away in a critique.  You'll just have to watch the movie for yourself. 

This is one movie that you may as well skip over renting and simply buy.  If not, you just wasted the rental fee, because you're going to purchase it, anyway.  It's that good.  You'll want to watch it again and again.  I've only seen it three times (but only saw it the first time four days ago), but each time I saw it, I saw something new.  Each time the movie touched me that much more. 

The film isn't "Liberal" propaganda (as some shit-for-brains, insignificant fools have accused it of being).  It isn't black and white.  There are plenty of gray areas, and the movie doesn't have an agenda.  The movie works in so many different ways, it wouldn't matter if it did.  If you want to watch it as nothing more than a thriller, go ahead.  It will thrill you.  If you want to watch it as nothing more than a romance, go ahead.  It will move you. 

With The Constant Gardener, you can have it your way (sort of like Burger King, only not crappy and full of unnecessary saturated fat).  The movie is whatever you want it to be.  But the movie will accentuate whatever it is you go in hoping it will become.  That is where The Constant Gardener is flawless.  Take it as a thriller, a romance, a mystery, a social piece of commentary.  Take it as you will.  No matter how you take it, it will be better than you expected.

I hate it when people watch a movie and say, "They don't make movies like that, anymore!"  In the case of The Constant Gardener, they don't (although things have been looking up with Lord of War and Syriana).  This film was pulled from the yesteryear of 12 Angry Men, Ace in the Hole, Chinatown and All the President's Men.  It's going to be up for a lot of awards, and it's going to deserve to win almost every damn one of them.  No matter how much you're tempted by the latest sequel to the remake of The Dukes of Hazzard, resist.  This is the one movie of 2005 that I feel safe recommending to everyone.


There's nothing this movie critic likes more than discussing movies with fellow film fanatics. He's even getting better at replying. Agree? Disagree? Doesn't matter. Let's talk film! Email Alex!

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