The Constant Gardener was a bit of a mystery for me, I had seen the trailer and some of the blurbs associated with it and it really did look like a great huge conspiracy thriller. I was expecting high talent and some edge of your seat. It’s really pretty clear from the beginning of the movie that the pace was a lot slower than I was expecting, and there was bags of style as well as some superbly natural acting.
First though, many thanks to Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for letting us all see The Constant Gardener.
It’s a great multiplex in Edinburgh, with the best hot dogs…a bone of contention this particular afternoon as we were really late for the start of the movie and since I hate missing any part of a movie we raced straight up there and watched the entire movie absolutely starving – here’s a tip, don’t make that mistake yourself!
There were four of us there, so before my review lets see what everyone else thought. Okay, they’re on ten scales, I’m on five, but hey, you can double up!
I didn’t get a hotdog!
Very thought provoking film. African scenery fantastic. Felt it was terrible to see big companies exploiting a poor nation.
Quite good. Insightful into how powerful drug companies are.
So that’s what everyone else thought of the movie, but since this is my review, what did I think?
From the opening there are some strong performances, and I was amazed at how natural the performances of Danny Huston and in particular Rachel Weisz. Weisz was stunning, from her delivery of lines, her facial expressions right through to the scene where she was drying herself from a bath. Her performance was mesmerising and utterly convincing, I’ve never seen her give such an amazingly strong performance.
Interestingly, Ralph Fiennes was quite disappointing. His performance was stilted and withdrawn, and extremely hard for me to connect with. Even his scene of intense emotion where he begins to break down and cry seems false and forced. Perhaps part of it is that he needs to appear as a typical stiff upper lip Englishman, and yet Huston carries off his performance of such a character with much more believability.
The story was very well written although it took a long time from the understanding of the conspiracy to any point of action around it, and ultimately to its resolution. This delay was a commonplace occurrence in the movie, there were a lot of lingering shots of scenery, holding on and stretching out moments. The scenery though was spectacular, beautifully rich shots of the African country as well as the people. That alone made the movie a feast for the eyes, yet the style heavily detracted from that.
In an attempt, one can only assume, to make the movie feel more edgy and thriller like, much like a Bourne story, the camera shake was highly visible. Now by highly I don’t just mean the kind of shake you see from handheld, but severe overuse of the shake, as though the cameramen had been told to make it deliberately shake ridden. Quite frankly it was annoying, from start to finish.
Another terribly annoying feature of the filming was the desire to place an out of focus object between the camera and every persons face you were looking at. I know that combined with the shaky camera is supposed to give you a feeling of reality and a slight voyeuristic feel as though you were in the room but not part of the group, but it was well overdone. Too much style can swamp a movie, and it definitely did here.
The colouring and texture differences between the current time and past time of the movie were very nicely done. Hard grain for current and softer, standard film texture for the past memories. This fitted very well with the story and gave you the feeling of separate between the two without having the film makers spell it out to you.
The end of the movie did have a sermon feel to it, as though the film makers abandoned the story to step in and tell you what was wrong with Africa. Yet there’s quite a danger here, for the audience have no idea what the reality is. Sure we know that Africa is poor and is being taken advantage of by major corporations and countries, but to this degree? Is this story based on some semblance of fact? It’s very difficult at the end to discern if the makers are telling us that this is actually happening, or it’s a general tale of caution about what is being done to Africa as a whole. I found this aspect concerning, and to a slight degree, somewhat irresponsible.
Overall though the story is very strong, and very big, with a massive ending. It has a huge agenda and tackles it very well with some strong performances. However, both the idea and the style could have been toned down slightly to make a better and more accessible movie. As well as increasing the pace throughout.