DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Constant Gardener

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Steve Tannehill, Jan 9, 2006.

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  1. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    XenForo Template  The Constant Gardener Studio: Focus Features / Universal Studios Home Entertainment Year: 2006 (2005 Release) Rated: R Aspect Ratio: 1.85x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays Audio: English DD 5.1; French DD 5.1 Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles Time: 2:08:32 Disc Format: SS/DL (DVD-9) Number of Chapters: 20 Layer Switch: Yes Case Style: Keep Case The Feature: What happens when big, bad pharmaceutical companies run rampant in foreign lands, in collusion with government entities, and foist upon the unsuspecting masses medications that are not ready for prime-time? Epidemics? Deaths? One of the more shocking documentaries I have seen on HBO perpetuated the theory that the global AIDS pandemic started from a contaminated batch of polio vaccine administered in Africa. Did this happen? Could it happen again? Based loosely on the John Le Carre thriller, The Constant Gardener stars Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, a low-level British diplomat stationed in Africa. Rachel Weisz is his activist wife, Tessa. Early in the movie, Justin learns that Tessa and her driver have been killed. We are then taken on a flashback of how the two met. If you are sensitive to politics, The Constant Gardener gets off to a shaky start, with Tessa criticizing the U.K.'s position in Iraq. That leads to a real opposites-attract passionate affair with Justin, and the next thing you know, they are married, she is pregnant, and she becomes a volunteer aid worker and a thorn in the side of some high-ranking individuals involved with the testing of a new tuberculosis drug. This is all done behind Justin's back; it seems that she wants to shield him from exposure, although Justin interprets her mysterious behavior as something else. The flashback eventually takes us full-circle, and the story moves forward with Justin on a worldwide quest to find the people responsible for Tessa's death. The Constant Gardener tries to be a political thriller about corporate wrongdoing in the pharmaceutical industry, and largely succeeds. It is also a love story between Justin and Tessa, and on that level I enjoyed it. Justin's character lives in a cloister of memories and is driven by his love for his late wife to uncover potentially painful truths. The acting in this regard is superb. At the core of the movie is Justin's transformation from a constant gardener--a man who is sheltered from the world--to the passionate man that his wife deserved. But I don't especially like being hit over the head with a political agenda, and I could not help but think that The Constant Gardener was made with that in mind. Caveat emptor. The Feature: 3.5 / 5     Video: The Constant Gardener is filmed in a variety of styles. The cameras are largely handheld, which adds to the immediacy of the story. Colors range from cold, muted bluish tones, to blown-out bright scenes, to the overcast skies of London, to the colorful garb of African natives. Presented in 1.85x1, anamorphic widescreen, the DVD captures this look perfectly, with nary a trace of edge enhancement or artifact. Video: 4.5 / 5      Sound: The Constant Gardener is presented in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound is not overly-showy, but it serves the story well, with dialogue anchored on the center, and surrounds used for ambience. If you want explosions, try Serenity. Sound: 4 / 5     Extras: The disc includes a smattering of extras, mostly featurettes that might as well have been part of an overall documentary:
  2. Four deleted scenes (10:34)
  3. An Extended Scene (9:42) of the AIDS play Haruma.
  4. Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya (9:29)
  5. John Le Carre: From Page to the Screen (8:08)
  6. Anatomy of a Global Thriller: Behind the Scenes of The Constant Gardener (11:35) The DVD opens with trailers for the fascinating-looking neo-noir Brick, Cinderella Man, Focus Features, and Law & Order. You can escape them by hitting the Menu button on the remote. Extras: 3.5 / 5     In Conclusion: The quality of the acting is certain to make The Constant Gardener an awards candidate, as we will find out during next week's Golden Globes. The movie itself will take more than one viewing to fully appreciate the story--it is complex, and it does expect you to keep up. More than once, I caught myself scanning back with the remote to hear a key piece of dialogue again, something that is definitely not possible in a movie theater. One thing that is certain--I missed this movie in the theater knowing full well that I would catch it on DVD, and it works ideally in this medium. Overall Rating: 3.5 / 5     Release Date: January 10, 2006
    Display calibrated by Steve Martin at http://www.lionav.com/
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  8. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    I feel different about the film itself. The political agenda (and this is coming form someone slightly RIGHT of center) is straight out of the source material, and rather believable (sadly). More importantly, the crux of the story is mystery about their marriage, and the film handles that beautifully. I still consider this the best film I saw last year, and it's in my top five easily.

    It's also one of the most gorgeous films ever made. Fernando Mereilles is brilliant.
     
  9. Cory S.

    Cory S. Supporting Actor

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    I feel exactly the same way Chuck. This film ended up being Number 2 on my list last year. For most of the year, it was Number 1 until Spielberg unleashed Munich on me and I had to give in.

    Still, The Constant Gardener is a remarkable film.
     
  10. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Sold! I missed this in the theaters because, quite honestly, I had no idea what it was about and the title was like "huh?" [​IMG]

    But I really am into the subject material (both the political/corporate and the love story) so I'll be buying this blind.

    Thanks for the review!
     
  11. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    Thanks for the remarks, guys. I watched the movie while still under the effects of a cold, which is not the best way to appreciate a complex story. I'm definitely due a second viewing (which is rare, considering my schedule).

    I actually keep coming back to certain scenes, which means the story is sticking with me.

    - Steve
     
  12. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    I might suggest a rental. It isn't a bad film, but is wildly overpraised. The last section, without giving anything away, is just so ridiculous, it is like a paranoid Big Brother like fantasy. Totally ruined the film for me.

    It may be advertised as a smart, political film, but I found it to be a rather stupid thriller.
     
  13. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    I am looking forward to this as well, and wasn't aware that the love story played as big a role as it does. I am also interested in the complexities of the story behind the 'thriller' side to it. From the previews, at least, I got the 'thriller' part, but not the 'political' part - at least as far as 'government' is concerned. I gathered from the previews that it had to do with shady drug company dealings, but not really 'political' with politicians/governments.

    I think whether it is believable or not comes down to your view on how the world works (corporate power/influence, greed, foreign policy, energy and energy policy, pharmaceutical companies, etc.). Maybe it was a lot easier 15-20 years ago to have the cliched 'bad guys' be the Russians, rather than the new breed of greedy/power-hungry politicians, oil executives, pharmaceutical companies, etc. (not new really, just starting to be the topic of more fiction as more light is shed on their dealings).
     
  14. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Well actually having done quite a bit of research [academic, not just hearsay] into:

    1. Corporate Power in the 20th century
    2. How Corporations and Governments work together to further their needs while subjugating peoples and other countries

    I really don't think anything could be too paranoid Big Brother for me. [​IMG]

    And that's about as far as I'm willing to take that line of thought on this forum [​IMG]
     
  15. Kyle_D

    Kyle_D Second Unit

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    Great film, thanks for the review.

    My mom works for one of the major US drug companies and actually thought the movie was probably pretty accurate regarding drug testing in Africa and the worthlessness of the drugs sent over there for relief.
     
  16. Mark Bendiksen

    Mark Bendiksen Screenwriter

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    Me, too. The film has somewhat haunted me in the months since I first saw it. It's very effective filmmaking, IMHO. And Rachel Weisz....wow. She's simply mesmerizing. Here's hoping that now she never resorts to making another Mummy movie.
     
  17. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    Steve,

    Thanks for the review.

    A suggestion: I believe the following passage from the 3rd paragraph gives too much away:

    it seems that she wants to shield him from exposure, although Justin interprets her mysterious behavior as an affair.

    Please consider removing that passage.

    --
    H
     
  18. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    Tweaked, sorry.

    - Steve
     
  19. JoshB

    JoshB Supporting Actor

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    I just picked this up today as a blind buy (it wasn't in theaters near me when it was first released so I missed out) mostly because I was overwhelmed with Meirelles' City of God and have always enjoyed Fiennes' work. Meirelles is on his way to becoming a great director, and I look forward to his future projects.

    I think this is the sort of film that demands repeat viewings. I liked it alot after the first viewing, but I know I'm going to spin it again in the coming days to pick up the little pieces that probably went right by me when I first watched it. The story and structure is quite complex, but figuring the story out as it unfolds is what I love about films and this one is one of the best of 2005 that I have seen.

    This is also the most beautifully shot film I have seen all year, and it would be a shame if it isn't at least nominated for cinematography (along with picture, editing, screenplay, director, and maybe actress).
     
  20. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    Not sure where I read this, but my understanding is that the final structure and love story focus was found in the editing room. Apparently there was a lot of material shot, and it was decided to focus on this aspect of the story.
     
  21. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    I got a chance to see this last night, and yes, the love story is a major part of the story. I don't think it stands alone as a "thriller", because so much importance was placed on the love story, and Justin finding out what happened to his wife.



    Below is a partially-edited copy of something I wrote about the film on another forum:

    I enjoyed it very much. The picture quality was excellent, with lots of detail (any shots that were soft I forgive, as they filmed on location with handheld cameras). If you're familiar with City of God, that film had more grain and grit to the picture, and The Constant Gardener is much cleaner, more detailed, and the colors seem stylistically altered, although not nearly as drastically as the beautiful colors in City of God. I thought the surround sound was excellent as well - lots of subtle things, like rain dripping in the background, sounds of people all around in the crowds, subtle sounds of the wind howling while on top of the cliff (2 cars), and near the beginning, at the airport, it sounded like there really was a plane overhead. The music also sounded great, and was stirring and moving, or subtle when it needed to be.

    As far as the story goes, I thought it was a great blend of a love story and a thriller, set in a place I think more people need to "see". I thought it was excellent, and didn't expect as much of the love story angle due to the previews focusing on the thriller side.


    (I probably don't need to do this, but...)
    I was expecting more of a 'big brother' huge web of political intrigue, but it turned out to be different than my expectations, in that regard at least.


    Being another Focus Features film (like Broken Flowers), there is a trailer for the new film Brick at the beginning. I highly suggest you watch the trailer instead of skipping to the menu.


    For those worried about being offended by any sort of political bias, as the original review up top mentions, there is only one scene near the beginning where certain views are expressed about England's involvement with a certain war, used in my opinion mainly as a setup to show the opposites-attract between the activist and the British diplomat. Other than that, it's about pharmaceutical companies and Africa, so it should be well clear of offending the uber-politically-sensitive who don't want to see anything that might present any sort of viewpoint that doesn't agree with theirs. The "hit over the head with the political agenda" in the original review, I disagree with. The thriller side to the story is about some unethical actions by some government officials and a pharmaceutical company. I don't see how that's a "political agenda". Watching parts of the behind-the-scenes, the author of the novel the movie was based on (who said almost every line of the story was changed, but it was the most faithful book-to-film adaptation he' seen as it captures the essence of the story), said he wanted to do something topical. He was thinking about making it about oil, but wanted to stay away from it a little and tackle another pressing issue in our time, Africa. So rather than having a "political agenda", I think the aim of the subject matter was to open some eyes about the conditions in Africa, what's going on, etc. If people see that as a "political agenda", that's fine too. To each his/her own.


    All in all, it's a very topical film (Time's Persons of the Year were Bono and Mr/Mrs Gates), reminding us all of the continent called Africa, lest we forget because we are too busy moaning and groaning about gas prices going up 10 cents this week or about how our favorite American Idol contender just lost.
     
  22. Chuck Bogie

    Chuck Bogie Second Unit

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    IMHO, another case of the book being better...
     
  23. Brent Bridgeman

    Brent Bridgeman Second Unit

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    When I saw this at the theater, I wasn't overwhelmed by the political angle of the story, but I thought the love story, followed by Justin's investigation amidst his grief, was heartbreaking. The scene with him sitting in the garden in their apartment in England just totally broke me up. It probably didn't help that my wife had been out of town for about 5 days (of a 1 week trip) at that point and I was already missing her. I loved the film, but I'm not sure I can watch it again. The performances by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz were absolutely perfect in my opinion.
     
  24. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

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    There is some EE on the long shots, also soft sequences.

    Good movie.
     

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