Posted to www.marxmail.org on February 14, 2006
"Constant Gardener" is an adaptation of John Le Carre's 2000 novel. Although flawed in many ways, it is
certainly worth seeing as another example of
Starring Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, a career-minded
British diplomat who has never challenged authority in his life, and Rachel Weisz as Tessa, his much younger and more idealistic wife,
it dispenses with the sort of moral ambiguities and contradictions of Le Carre's earlier and more successful fiction. Set during the
cold war, "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" basically made the case
that there was not much difference between the
With the collapse of the
For his part, Justin Quayle is content to tend to the garden at his diplomat's villa, clearly meant to evoke Candide's observation: "That's all very well, but let us cultivate our garden." In other words, it is a metaphor for disengagement.
After Tessa discovers that drug companies have been using the poor, unsuspecting and Black population in a TB drug trial that often results in death, she goes on a crusade to expose them. She is murdered for her efforts. Le Carre's novel is mostly about Justin Quayle's attempts to discover who killed his wife and eventually complete her mission. Although she is present in a number of flashbacks, we encounter her more as a memory than as a character engaged with others.
In a bid, one supposes, to make the tale more accessible to
mainstream audiences, screenwriter Jeffrey Caine
makes Tessa a major character and devotes most of the first third of the film
to showing her at work in the slums of
In one of the key scenes of Le Carre's novel, Quayle confronts Pelligrin, his superior in the Foreign Office, with his knowledge of the drug companies' crimes and Pelligrin's complicity, at an elegant private club. This scene reveals Le Carre at his best, with biting ironies at the expense of the blueblood but degraded Pelligrin. In the film, it loses much of its cutting edge as Le Carre's narration falls by the wayside--as it inevitably must in any adaptation of a novel. Instead, we are left with the dialogue which as good as it is cannot convey the full dimensions of Quayle's breach with his class.
Since I was never impressed with Fernando Meirelles hand-held camera-work in "City of
Although I have not read Le Carre's
"Constant Gardener," I would have chosen another approach entirely. I
would have dispensed with the Tessa back-story altogether and focused much more
on the dialogue. One of the great films of all time dealing with crime and
pharmaceuticals is "The Third Man," which is 90 percent dialogue.
Since Graham Greene is obviously a major influence on John Le Carre, it would have made sense to choose a screenwriter
and director who have been influenced by Carol Reed's masterpiece. Of course,
such people do not exist in
Whatever the flaws of "Constant Gardener," it is well worth renting from your local video store--especially in comparison with the garbage that is foisted on the public on a regular basis.