After suspicions that his wife is having an affair, diplomat Justin Quayle’s (Ralph Fiennes) life is turned upside down when his exuberant wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), is killed in Kenya. At first, Justin is grief stricken and unsure what to believe about Tessa’s fidelity. But then he stumbles across the project Tessa was working on before she died that uncovers corporate conspiracy, government cover-ups, bribery and murder. Suddenly, Justin becomes embroiled in a scandal that goes to the very core of the British government and reveals just how much African life is worth to the west. He quickly comes to realize that he must risk his own life to find out the truth about what happened to Tessa.
Ralph is sublime as the English gentleman always keeping up appearances and blindly accepting everything at face value. His naiveté is heartbreaking and heartening at the same time. Rachel is similarly strong as the effervescent Tessa and her performance lends density and vulnerability to her character.
The film’s cinematography by Cesar Chalone is breathtaking. Stunning landscapes are shown in between close ups of the Justin at odd angles and the grainy colors of the African towns and cities. The first third of the film cuts backwards and forwards in time keeping us in suspense about what’s actually happening but, unlike the standard action drama, the story unfolds at a slower pace. This makes the film more like an intriguing saga that draws you in, rather than a thriller that has you gripping your seat. It is full but sedate, and doesn’t overdo it with the action sequences until they are really needed.
A profound and sobering film, The Constant Gardener is a superb and gorgeous art house offering about love, idealism and the west’s exploitation of the African people.