The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Constant Gardener

This movie is much better when you are thinking about it afterwards than it is while you are watching it. At about the 20 minute mark, Debbie and I looked at each other and asked, “Are you into this at all? Do you care about these people or what happens to them? Should we bother to keep watching?”

Eventually the story picks up and it turns into a complex and rather densely plotted thriller about corporate/governmental dealings and how they can impact common people in unexpected ways (sorry for another generic plot summary, but I try to avoid spoilers in my mini-reviews). The story comes from a book by mystery/thriller/spy novelist John le Carre. If you have read his stuff, you know that means unbelievable detail and very confusing collusions and possible deceptions between characters. The movie has a hard time jamming in the sheer number of people involved and their roles in the unraveling mystery. You can easily lose track of who is who. That’s a problem when you get big revelations near the end spoken as expository (or revelatory) dialog by one character to another and you can’t figure out who they are referring to!

There is a central love story between Rachel Weisz as an outspoken activist of some sort or other (we never really learn her professional association and it’s a real shock late in the film to find out she seems to be extremely wealthy) and Ralph Fiennes as an introverted and somewhat wimpy diplomat of some kind (we never see him do any work either and have no idea of his governmental role). I found both of their characters somewhat annoying. She seemed like an antagonistic brat determined to have her own way in every situation and willfully rude to anybody in power who may cross her path. He did not convince me in his acting of what his character was saying about the depth of his love for her. The supporting actors fare better, mainly because they are put in place as superficial plot catalysts rather than real people anyway.

There was hardly a single camera shot in the entire movie that I didn’t consciously hate. The director never seemed to have any idea how to photograph people unobtrusively. It was all shaky handheld work and extreme closeups and soft focus and strange angles. This stuff makes me want to throw things at the screen. He did get some lovely outdoor vistas of the African countryside and villages where they filmed (the movie was shot on location in Kenya).

All those negative comments out front, it still was fun to watch Fiennes work his way through the labyrinthine maze of lies and underhanded dealings to discover the truth, once he finally got motivated. There was a real sense of danger and vulnerability for his character to overcome. And there is a powerful message in the plot (admittedly, delivered to the viewing audience with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead) that will make you think about business and political morality versus expediency. Or you may choose to view it as bleeding heart liberal tripe. Either way, you will feel satisfied that all the loose ends come together at the end (helped along by rather convenient assistance from key individuals just when they are needed).

You know what? The more I read this, the less I like this movie! The heck with it. This one is not for the kiddies. There is partial nudity, some sexual situations (although nothing graphically shown), and physical violence. But they wouldn’t last to those parts of the movie anyway. Too much boring and confusing talking up front.

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