If your politics lean left of center, you'll love this movie. The Constant Gardener, adapted from a novel by John Le Carré, was directed by Fernando Meirelles, a Brazilian who emerged on the international film scene with guns blazing-literally-in City of God. That calling card led to a plum Hollywood assignment in Gardener, which stars Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, and Danny Huston.
Mr. Fiennes plays the title green thumb, British diplomat Justin Quayle-stationed in Kenya and, as a sign of his profound disengagement with the world, immersed in his flora. Justin is married to his polar opposite, strong-willed activist Tessa (Ms. Weisz), who spends her days out among sick and dying Africans.
The Constant Gardener (rated R for language, some violent images, and sexual content/nudity) cleverly plays with time by telling its story both forward and backward. As the movie begins, Tessa and her driver are brutally murdered on the road back from a secretive humanitarian (or was it?) mission. Justin begins to sort through the details, lies, and innuendos that surround Tessa's life and death as the audience gradually learns more about how these two radically different personalities coexisted.
Tessa had attached herself to an aid worker with whom she may or may not have had an affair. The two of them also may or may not have uncovered an illegal drug-testing scandal involving "Big Pharma" and the high reaches of the British government. Justin is left with a choice-take up Tessa's crusade or reject her as an unfaithful wife.
Mr. Meirelles directs Gardener with the same energy and flair he demonstrated in City of God. Here the results are far more heavy-handed: London uniformly shot in cold, gray, washed-out tones; Kenya-and even Sudan-in bold, oversaturated colors. But at least the film is visually interesting.
More frustrating is the screenplay's complete lack of subtlety. Certainly, the destitution of Africa, governmental corruption, and immoral business practices ought to generate compassion and outrage. But by the end of Gardener, thoughtful viewers will wonder how the left can rail against the lack of advanced medicines while so viciously attacking the pharmaceutical companies that develop and produce them.
Mr. Meirelles, who viscerally captured slum life in his last film, here spends most of his time building a conspiratorial case for Western guilt. If this film is telling you what you already want to hear, then it will likely entertain and enthrall you. If not, be prepared to find this "thriller" less than thrilling.