An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

                What a pleasure.  While “The Constant Gardener” is profoundly sad, it is also rich in its portrayal of the beauty of Kenya and its people.  As in many of the world’s beautiful places, terrible things can overwhelm the civilian populations.  Director Fernando Meirelles and writer Jeffrey Caine have crafted a moving and successful version of  John Le Carre’s intricate novel.  As they spin their plot, they never let us forget what is going on in Kenya at that moment.  On top of this disturbing base, the story of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) is captivating.  

                The chemistry between Fiennes and Weisz will stop you in your tracks.  Theirs is a laughing, smiling love.  Fiennes’ Justin is gentle, compassionate, kind.  Weisz’s Tessa is outspoken, idealistic, wildly open hearted.  It is her nature to right wrongs, his to keep order.  What is to Tessa an adventure is to Justin a risk.  She is at home in an alien land; he makes his home within it.

                Listen carefully, or you’ll miss the crucial details.  Cleverly, Meirelles never trumpets them.  Watch for the methods of the British High Commission, the workings of British Intelligence, the arrogance of empire.  Then sit back and enjoy an old fashioned drama true to its time.

                Early on, Justin receives the wrenching news that Tessa has been found raped, mutilated, and murdered while on an inspection trip with her colleague, Arnold.  The rest of the movie is the story of Justin’s slow conversion to his dead wife’s principles as he turns his gentle self into a man determined to find the truth of what his wife had been doing.  Through flashbacks, the honesty and idealism of this couple sink into our souls.  It’s what a really good movie can do:  wrench us from our daily life and shake us by the shoulders because we care so much about the people delivering the message.

                We watch British commissioners talking about food over the white tablecloths of a British men’s club while assuming covert collusion with a pharmaceutical giant.  Tessa knew something.  What did she know?  Saying of her husband – a lover of flowers to his very core – that a world without weeds would be his dream, she knows she cannot engage his passion in her cause of uncovering the global scandal being micromanaged right in front of them.  The lovely thing is that she accepts this part of the man she loves so well.

                Watch for the soft, fleshy face of British treachery, the harsh insulation of corporate corruption, the foolhardy bravery of Tessa and her colleague, Arnold.  The measure of the acting of Weisz and Fiennes is that instead of just giving us a good movie, they send us from the theater asking, “Am I willing to live in a world like this?” At the very least, we are shaken.  And yet, somehow we are lifted up by their transcendence. 


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