11 September 2005

The Constant Gardener (Movie)

Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were plenty of raves, but my idol Anthony Lane at the New Yorker wasn’t too keen on it. On the other hand, I just read John LeCarre’s novel this summer, and totally loved it, so it was hard to conceive of missing the movie, especially one with such a fine cast and a serious director.

So the verdict is: decent. I laughed, I cried. No, I think I just cried. A lot. But I have a hard time seeing how anyone who has not read the book could possibly understand this movie. Although various plot elements were simplified (enormously), there’s a level of context that’s entirely missing. Nonreaders would probably find Justin and Tessa’s relationship movie-conventional: they meet, hop into bed, follow great sex with commitment and marriage; then little cracks appear in their union, grow into larger cracks, and she dies, leaving him to mourn what might have been.

I am going to try not to comment on the missing complexities, because that’s simply inevitable in a movie of a novel, especially a novel as densely layered as The Constant Gardener. But it’s harder to forgive the omission of LeCarre’s acute moral sensibility: Justin’s transformation from a fairly superficial (though unfailingly polite) civil servant to—first—an appreciator of passionate advocacy (by appreciating it in his wife) and—finally—a hero for a cause.

The performances in this movie were very good, although I wasn’t always delighted with the casting. Ralph Fiennes is a splendid actor, but he wears his emotions so much on his face that it’s difficult to see him as the imperturbable diplomat. I kept wishing Alan Rickman had this part—or someone else who keeps his inner turmoil inner. Rachel Weisz was fine as Tessa and Danny Houston was appropriately icky as Sandy Woodrow.

Recommendation: if you’ve read the book, be prepared for less. If you’ve not read the book, be prepared to be confused.

Recommendation, take 2: Read the book. It’s a great love story, a thriller, a spy novel, and enlightening (and scary) about the impact of multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Filed in:

No comments: