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The Constant Gardener

Genre: Drama/Romance/Mystery/Thriller
Rated: R
Directed by
: Fernando Meirelles
Released by: Focus Features

In Short: The Oscar race begins with this finely crafted story of love, greed and dark political machinations told against the stunning backdrop of the Kenyan landscape.

Plotting the Perfect Gardener
The Best Picture Oscar Race is On
By Jenny Peters

"The Constant Gardener" is disturbing, emotional, intelligent and visually unforgettable, a film that lingers in the mind long after the theater lights come up. Based on the John Le Carré novel of the same name, the movie brilliantly unravels a complex tale of corporate greed, political corruption and, at its core, the meaning of love and fidelity in a marriage.

Ralph Fiennes stars as Justin Quayle, a London-based British diplomat who is assigned to a post in Nairobi, Kenya. Practically on a whim, he marries Tessa (Rachel Weisz), his passionately left-wing and much-younger girlfriend, and brings her along as he heads off to Africa. Once there, Tessa is so overwhelmed by the poverty and illness she sees in the city's slums that she becomes determined to make a difference in the lives of the people she encounters. Ignoring the extreme cultural barriers between white and black, she quickly becomes a fiery champion of the poorer classes, and consequently a thorn in the side of the Kenyan government and their British counterparts. This is all to the chagrin of her mild-mannered husband, who would rather putter in his garden than see the injustices in the world just over his wall. When Tessa uncovers a very dirty secret of a multinational pharmaceutical company, all hell breaks loose as powerful forces combine to force her to keep mum about what she knows.

The film, helmed by Brazilian "City of God" visionary Fernando Meirelles, succeeds on every level. The actors are exemplary, especially Fiennes, in a totally believable transformation from a passive, conciliatory man into one compelled to take dangerous action. Weisz is brilliant, too, as a woman who knows she is treading a perilous path but follows her destiny regardless. Danny Huston deserves praise as well as a smarmy colleague in the diplomatic core who makes your skin crawl every time he is on screen. All three actors warrant end-of-year accolades for their performances.

But it isn't just the performances that make "The Constant Gardener" such an amazing must-see movie. Meirelles and his cinematographer have captured the soul of Africa and her peoples, with stunning visuals shot in and among real places and people that populate this compelling and intricate story, creating moments of astonishing beauty juxtaposed against crushing poverty.

A warning, however. This film is not your typical Hollywood movie with a happily-ever-after ending. It is, instead, a brilliantly realized tragedy that will wrench your heart and disturb your intellect. In other words, "The Constant Gardener" sets the bar awfully high for all other Best Picture Academy Award contenders.

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