Despite moving from his native land to direct thrillers starring household names, Brazilian film-maker Fernando Meirelles is perhaps still best known for City of God, his gangster epic, billed as the Brazilian ‘Goodfellas’, set in and around the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The Constant Gardener was Meirelles’ next project, and as such, has a certain expectation placed upon it.
As with City of God, the subject matter takes a look at poverty and human suffering in the world (this time Africa) albeit from a completely different angle. Starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, and based on a John le Carré novel, this is essentially a political thriller that while not quite as globe-hopping as your average 007 escapade, nevertheless shares a certain DNA as it unravels. In a sense, it feels like two films glued together. We learn of one of the principle character’s fate in the opening scenes, which structures the first half of the film as a join-the-dots, of sorts, setting the second half up as more of an investigative thriller.
As you might expect, Ralph Fiennes is an interesting presence in his lead role. Fiennes is an intelligent actor, which comes across in his sensitive portrayal of a man fighting to sustain balance between his outspoken wife (Weisz) and his political colleagues. As with City of God, César Charlone’s cinematography is pure poetry, starkly contrasting the difference between the cold concrete of London and the dying poverty of Northern Kenya.
This is a film with an overriding sense of sadness and injustice to it. It’s at times hard to see it as entertainment, especially when the inequality of the world is so openly laid out to see. Still, Meirelles has made another highly noteworthy film, with some striking imagery and a plot that throws in its fair share of red herrings, to hold your fascination. 4/5