Summer's end is the New Jersey in the movie
business; the place they dump the deadly, unloved and failed.
Inept stabs at blockbusters like The Sound of Thunder are
the bloody, unwanted fetuses stashed a foot deep in the toxic
muck of late August. Embarrassing vanity projects like Underclassman
that studios realized were mistakes long before they even started
shooting them are dumped like petroleum byproducts into the briny
marshes. And, grown up movies focused more on story than stars
let free faster than three-legged dogs and pet turtles. Without
giving them a budget, the studios tell them "You're better off
here. This is where you belong" before speeding away, never looking
movie like The Constant Gardener is for grown ups. It's
too good, thick and knotty to be an Oscar movie, and it's not
star-driven enough for those fuckwits to know how to market. So,
here it is, limping along, whimpering and malnourished, lost in
the tangle of crap and debris of New Jersey. I know that lovable,
good things can be found lost in the muck and murk, half-covered
in shit for those who look, because that's exactly where I was
when Mrs. Filthy first met me. And it's where I am about half
the time when she comes home from work. Sure, it's my own filth,
but the point is that great things can be found if you just wipe
some of the shit away.
Constant Gardener is the best movie I've seen this summer.
That's sort of like being the prettiest she-male in the revival
tent. The lack of competition doesn't do it justice.
Fiennes (pronounced "ralf fee-enn-ess" regardless of what he says)
is a British bureaucrat in Northern Kenya, accompanied by his
well-intentioned hippie wife (Rachel Weisz). When Weisz is murdered
on a trip with a Kenyan doctor, Fiennes uncovers a pharmaceutical
conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of British government.
story is based on a John LeCarre novel, and like most of his books
it's a hell of a lot like Graham Greene. A passive anti-hero becomes
entangled in a situation beyond his control. He is forced out
of complacency to make the strong moral decisions he spends his
life avoiding. In this one, Fiennes knows his wife has been secretive
and duplicitous, but he assumes it's because she's having an affair.
He's too spineless to confront her while she's alive. But once
she's dead, he discovers the corruption she's uncovered and has
to act out of respect for her and her mission. The crime is that
big British pharmaceuticals are testing experimental drugs on
the African poor, and killing far more than they admit.
makes the Constant Gardener so damn good is that it never
simplifies or talks down. The story isn't spelled out as through
we're fucking morons; it's told in the margins and in the small
gestures, like the way Weisz takes a Kenyan doctor's hand, or
how Fiennes thinks to read Weisz's private e-mail but is too scared
to actually do it. Just like in his last movie City of God,
director Fernando Meirelles shows respect for both the audience
and his story. He also shows a bit too much flash, but it's not
looks horrible and amazing; filthy, brackish and expansive. I
haven't been there, but the movie feels honest in how it captures
the poverty and filth, as well as the natural beauty, diversity
and innocence. Just like in City of God, Meirelles sneaks
his cameras into the ghettos and captures what most of us would
otherwise never see. And this isn't poverty like someone living
in a dumpster by the railroad tracks. Hell, bums here live like
kings compared to the disease, famine and squalor of Africa. It's
truly horrifying, and something that is almost never shown or
story is as knotty as a warty dick, full of red herrings, missed
opportunities and my favorite, mistakes. Fuck, it's so much harder
to write a story where the good guys make mistakes and sometimes
guess wrong. It's also much more enjoyable to watch because what
happens is less predictable. As I watched the Constant Gardener
I thought of the slicker and crappier Sahara, which also
took place in Africa, but a far prettier section, and starring
a smug asshole of a hero who never is wrong. This movie is full
of far more interesting characters and dilemmas.
politics of the Constant Gardener can be heavy-handed.
It starts with Weisz making a screed against the Iraq war. The
scene is somewhat anachronistic to the story's time line (she
couldn't make that speech, move to Africa, get pregnant, lose
the child, investigate corruption and be murdered all since March
of 03). It's more the point of a screenwriter or director being
shoehorned in, and it shows. The pharmaceutical heavies are portrayed
a bit too villainous, too. In real life, bad guys rarely sit in
cabals around cackling about how awful they are. The ones around
here, anyway, spend their free time stealing my God damn newspaper.
But, it raises a valid point about the role of drug companies,
which are for-profit exercises, but also have the ability to save
lives. I imagine the conflict between satisfying the stockholders
who fund the company and satisfying the public is hard to resolve.
It's something I don't know enough about to have a strong opinion
one way or another (and I don't want yours). The Constant
Gardener is a little simplistic on this point, but that's
okay because it's a fucking top-notch thriller anyway. You don't
have to agree with the politics to enjoy it.
is the way political movies should be. Hell, make your point and
let people agree or disagree. But, for fuck's sake, make the movie
good along the way. Which Meirelles does. Four Fingers
for The Constant Gardener.
Want to tell Filthy Something?