Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Forgotten Beauty of The Constant Gardener

I’m no awards maven, but the Academy (and most other official awards bestowers) missed the boat by overlooking The Constant Gardener. The film dares to talk about politics—poverty in Africa and the exploitation of the people by the drug companies. Unlike Crash, it isn’t simply congratulating itself on its liberal beliefs (I’ll comment no further on this, instead I’ll let David Edelstein be my mouthpiece). Fernando Meirelles brings a passion to the story—he’s said that the situation in Kenya parallels the poverty in his native Brazil—and his handheld camera, roving through the streets with Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and later with Justin Quale (Ralph Fiennes), as he navigates the line at a health clinic, help humanize the tragedy. Unlike Syriana, The Constant Gardener is able to marry the political and the personal. The film’s uncovering of the misery in Kenya is inextricably linked to Fiennes’ efforts to learn the truth about his wife, and ultimately, to his discovering his political conscience (at the expense of his life). If we were not engaged emotionally, the film would be little more than an intellectual exercise or political windbaggery.

While we’re at it, a word on Ralph Fiennes. Maybe it’s because the guy is so damned good at playing emotionally constipated (see The English Patient) that people like the folks at the Academy simply take him for granted. Maybe he doesn’t get more attention because he simply doesn’t know how to show off. His performance in Gardener is one of brilliantly calibrated understatement. Fiennes’ reaction when he is interrupted from his gardening by Sandy (Danny Huston), who tells him that his wife has been killed is the type of transcendent moment about which critics love to write (in fact the New York Times did just that). In a closeup, Fiennes wordlessly absorbs this devastating news, his heart breaking. Then, his good breeding kicks in and he thanks his friend, saying, “That can’t have been easy.”


At 6:15 PM, Blogger Mdx said...

I couldn't agree more. Crash pales in comparison, comes across as disjointed, no real focus. The Constant Gardener should be up for more than just 4 Oscars.

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Saltygal said...

I completely agree. This film deserved more nominations This was Finnes finest performance and I am baffled that he was overlooked. It seems that sometimes films that release early in the year miss out on nominations. Unfortunately Constant Gardener's storyline is not as popular as Crash's. I think Matt Dillon deserves his nomination for Crash but the film as a whole was just too contrived. The Constant Gardener and Finnes performance in particular will stand up to the test of time.

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