music friday
film fatales #105: the invisible frame (cynthia beatt, 2009)

revisiting the constant gardener

When John le Carré died last month at the age of 89, I thought to read one of his novels. I remembered seeing the film of The Constant Gardener many years ago, and decided that would be a good choice to read. Thus, when I say I am "revisiting" The Constant Gardener, I'm referring to the movie, not to the book, which I read for the first time.

A couple of things stand out in my writing about the movie the first time through.

Robin likes to tease me because I always lose track of the plot in spy thriller type movies. She, of course, prefers the complicated plots, the more the merrier far as she is concerned (and she reads a lot of books in the genre as well). So there's always a point in the middle of one of these movies where I put it on pause and ask her "do you understand what the hell is going on?" and she looks at me like I'm a moron and says "duh." She didn't watch The Constant Gardener with me, though, so when I got to the part where I finally had to admit to myself that I didn't know what was going on, I had no one to talk about it with.

But, looking back, I think I did understand what was going on ... I just kept expecting some cheesy Hollywood crap and when it didn't come, I was confused. All of the characters are shaded in gray ... some are closer to "good" than others, but their motivations and actions are not always obvious the way they would be in a crappier movie. Same thing with the plot ... while much of the mystery, such as it is, is easy to understand and pretty clear from the beginning (at least the international intrigue parts), I kept waiting for silly plot twists, even when they never came.

What I'm trying to say is that The Constant Gardener is a very good movie that works in subtle ways, that I think I picked up on those subtleties, but I lack confidence in my ability to "read" thrillers so I convinced myself I wasn't getting it when I was.

This time around, my wife did watch with me, so I could have asked her what was going on. But I had just read the book, so I didn't need her help. In other words, one of the things that stood out the most for me in my earlier viewing (what's going on) was irrelevant in this revisit.

It took a while for the primary character to become clear in the book ... le Carré switches points of view, and it is only gradually that we realize Justin is the one. In the movie, you know right away, because Justin is played by Ralph Fiennes, who is the star of the cast. The film was just as impressive the second time around. Rachel Weisz won a Supporting Actress Oscar, beating out Amy Adams (Junebug), Catherine Keener (Capote), Frances McDormand (North Country), and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain). She is indeed wonderful, but I'd note that Ralph Fiennes is also excellent (Philip Seymour Hoffman won Best Actor that year for Capote). I first watched The Constant Gardener about a year before I saw City of God for the first time. The latter movie was also directed by Fernando Meirelles (along with Kátia Lund) ... a friend had bugged me for years about how great it was, and when I finally got around to it, my friend was right ... I ended up putting it at #20 on that 50 Fave Films list I made ten years ago. The Constant Gardener was the first movie Meirelles directed after City of God.

[Letterboxd list of the top movies of 2005]

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