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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Constant Gardener (2005)

"Some very nasty things can be found under rocks, especially in foreign gardens."
- Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: January 09, 2006

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz
Other Stars: Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: Fernando Meirelles

MPAA Rating: R for language, some violent images, and sexual content/nudity
Run Time: 02h:08m:29s
Release Date: January 10, 2006
UPC: 025192629228
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A C+

DVD Review

There are forces in this world far more terrifying than the terrorists and religious zealots whose actions are often easily explained away, at least here in the States, as an "embodiment of evil." Harder to grasp, and more terrible to contemplate, is the cold machine of global commerce, an unfeeling entity that swallows up humanity in pursuit of profits, be it the Chinese factories that keep peasants cowed or the Wal-Marts, lowering prices and increasing profits at the expense of their employees. In The Constant Gardener, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' adaptation of John le Carré's spy thriller, the villains are multi-national pharmaceutical companies; their victims, the human cattle populating AIDS-stricken African countries like Kenya.

Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a low-level British diplomat responsible for handling relations with foreign countries. Mild-mannered and obedient, he's content to spend his days in his garden, ignoring the larger implications of the work he does and the interests, both political and financial, he represents. His wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is his polar opposite, a liberal firebrand and champion of social justice. When Justin's duties send him to Kenya, Tessa becomes involved with the locals and begins to question the motives of the drug conglomerates administering free HIV medication to the plagued populace. As the film opens, Tessa is dead, killed by forces unknown for reasons that will become all too clear as Justin, his eyes opened to the harsh realities of a world he's so long ignored, leaves his garden to hunt down his wife's murderer.

This is a complex thriller in every sense of the word. As a narrative, it demands you attention as it moves back and forth in time, both a love story examining how Justin and Tessa met and married and a murder mystery with global implications. It's very hard to follow at times, with names of various diplomats and conspirators thrown back and forth, shifting loyalties and a spider's web of intrigue. But it's also very human. The focus on Tessa and Justin's love grounds the picture, but it's the African setting that gives it real heart.

Meirelles, whose visceral City of God took place in the slums of Brazil, here explores the thriller from a Third World point of view (in stark contrast to, say, Sidney Pollack's lumbering The Interpreter, which also focuses on politics in African but is set entirely in the US). Beautifully filmed on location in Kenya, with many non-professional actors, realism sweats out of every dusty frame. Though the director's signature kinetic editing is taken down a notch, his use of hand-held cameras and documentary techniques coupled with stylistic flair (varying film stocks, digital color correction) gives organic energy to a story that is, in many ways, a standard genre piece.

Feinnes is a sympathetic and engaging lead, a meek yes man transformed by hardship, but it's Weisz who really surprises—most probably know her from big-budget junk like the Mummy movies, but she gives the year's best supporting performance as Tessa, bringing depth and dimensionality to a role that could be written off as a left-wing cliché. The supporting cast features some familiar British faces—Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite—all in fine form.

This is a movie with a message, one that asks difficult questions and packs an emotional sledgehammer. The bad guys aren't easily defeated by those who pursue truth, because the evil exists everywhere around us, a political and financial system that operates on such a vast scale no one person can grasp. It explores the way governments will line up to aide corporations, how these corporations profit, and how those who benefit do so at the price of millions of ignored, impoverished human cattle. The subject is pharmaceuticals, but it could just as easily be oil, or weapons, or even food. The narrative demands action, compels viewers to look outside of their own gardens at the world around them. Sure, it's a hypocritical message, coming from a big-budget Hollywood movie, but that doesn't mean we can ignore it.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This excellent transfer nicely preserves Fernando Meirelles' stylistic flourishes, from varying film stocks to blown-out color and intentional grain. Throughout, detail is excellent, and I didn't spot significant edge enhancement or aliasing.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Though The Constant Gardener is far from an action film, the audio mix is livelier than you might expect. All the channels are put to good use, with dialogue anchored in the center and the mains and surrounds used effectively to create atmosphere, particularly during busy crowd scenes. There is also quite a lot of bass in the presentation of the score, and the thrumming LFE helps to increase tension on more than one occasion.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Brick, Cinderella Man
5 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The extras are interesting but not overwhelming. Though certainly the film more or less speaks for itself, a director's commentary might have been nice, but otherwise, this is a decent standard edition.

Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya (09m:29s) focuses on the challenges and benefits of shooting on location in crowded Kenyan marketplaces, using many non-professional actors to add a sense of realism and authenticity. Producer Simon Williams points out they had originally planned to film on sets in South Africa but knew the minute they visited Kenya that their plans had changed.

John le Carré: From Page to Screen (08m:08s) focuses on screenwriter Jeffrey Caine's adaptation of le Carré's novel. The author comments that while few of the film's scenes are taken directly from the book, he finds the movie to be an effective translation.

Anatomy of a Global Thriller (11m:52s) is a fairly standard making-of piece, featuring comments from the actors and the director, but in keeping with the film's progressive tone, it shies away from outright marketing fluff.

A collection of four deleted scenes runs just over 10 minutes. Most seem to have been cut because they explicate plot points that are largely inferred in the film as it is, though one is simply an extended sequences of a man riding a bike from a poor village into one of the richer areas of Kenya, a study in contrasts that made it into the film in a drastically truncated form. A 10-minute extended scene also presents the complete play put on by the street performers early in the finished film.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A talky, complex, unapologetically adult thriller shot from a Third World point of view, The Constant Gardener is one of 2005's best films, a big-budget Hollywood production with a surprising message of social justice at its core.


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