Based on the novel by John Le Carré Gardener starts with a murder as any good mystery does. British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) assigned to Nairobi sees his world crumble when his wife activist Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz) is found brutally mutilated in a remote area of Northern Kenya. His colleagues at the British High Commission especially close friend Sandy (Danny Huston) believe the usually mild-mannered Justin will quietly let them handle the matter. Up to this point in his life Justin has done little but do his job tend to his gardens and marry an extraordinary woman. But the powers that be sorely underestimate Justin. Haunted by his memories and incredulous that his wife may have been unfaithful Justin will no longer sit by passively. He cannot accept what happened to Tessa especially when he finds out they want to basically sweep the whole thing under the rug. It seems Tessa was ruffling more than a few feathers--and was perhaps even on the verge of exposing a deadly pharmaceutical conspiracy. So Quayle embarks on his own investigation risking his life to uncover the truth. Weighty stuff.
Fiennes and Weisz have never been better. Ever since the Oscar-nominated Fiennes first scared us silly as the fat sadistic Nazi in Schindler's List he has been quietly turning in one wonderfully understated performance after another even if the movies themselves aren't all that good (we'll forgive him for Maid in Manhattan). Playing Justin is no exception. He captures all the sad beauty of a man mourning for a woman he loved very much but who he also realizes he didn't know all that well. It's almost as if in investigating Tessa's murder Justin finally sees what kind of woman his wife truly was--and falls in love with her all over again. You just ache for him. For her part Weisz has certainly proven she's more than just a pretty face terrorized by deranged mummies. She expertly portrays a woman driven to help these Kenyan people any way she can even if it means sacrificing her own personal happiness. And she sacrifices quite a lot during the process. You often wonder how it is these two ever fell for each other to begin with but that's the true testament to these fine actors. In their capable hands they make Justin and Tessa's opposites-attract-but-modest love story irrefutable. The rest of cast are also excellent including Huston (Silver City) as the slippery Sandy and Bill Nighy (Love Actually) as the main British mucky muck whose morals are certainly compromised.
With The Constant Gardener Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles proves his surprise Academy Award nomination for directing the searing City of God wasn't a fluke. The guy obviously knows what he's doing--and could very well be seeing his name up there again come next February. Just as God showed how downright nasty the streets of Rio de Janeiro can be Meirelles hands us the horrible heartwrenching plight of the African people centering on the hauntingly beautiful Kenya and lovingly detailing its colorful people. Scenes of Tessa walking through barely livable shantytowns as bright seemingly happy children run around her while singing leaves a very indelible impression. But make no mistake; Meirelles doesn't hit you over the head with any do-gooder messages. Instead he lets the events unfold. He zooms in on these two people whose love is put to the test because of the circumstances they find themselves in while wrapping up the narrative in a compact murder mystery which may or may also involve a conspiracy of global proportions. The Constant Gardener is much more than just a mystery. It's going to make you think--and think hard.