Today’s Prayer Focus

The Constant Gardener

MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for language, some violent images and sexual content/nudity.

Reviewed by: Jonathan Wooten

Moral Rating: Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Year of Release: 2005
USA Release: August 31, 2005 (wide)
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Featuring Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Archie Panjabi, Bill Nighy
Director Fernando Meirelles
Producer Mike Newell, Simon Channing-Williams
Distributor Distributor: Focus Features. Trademark logo.Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast

Love at any cost.

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Based on the best-selling John le Carre novel, in a remote area of Northern Kenya, activist Tessa Quayle (Weisz) is found brutally murdered. Tessa’s companion, a doctor (Kounde), appears to have fled the scene, and the evidence points to a crime of passion. Members of the British High Commission in Nairobi assume that Tessa’s widower, their mild-mannered and unambitious colleague Justin Quayle (Fiennes), will leave the matter to them.

They could not be more wrong. haunted by remorse and jarred by rumors of his late wife’s infidelities, Quayle surprises everyone by embarking on a personal odyssey that will take him across three continents. Using his privileged access to diplomatic secrets, he will risk his own life, stopping at nothing to uncover and expose the truth—a conspiracy more far-reaching and deadly than Quayle could ever have imagined.”

“The Constant Gardener” wants us to think. Think about the world outside our backyard. AIDS ravaged Africa to be specific. Given the third world location and the film’s director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) one might expect a story set in gritty trenches. This is not the realm of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) though, a British diplomat living in Kenya. He is a stiff servant of the Empire who prefers to keep his hands clean (except when tending his garden, get it?). His wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz) could not be more different. She is a political radical and a thorn in the side of the government that employs her husband. Within the first five minutes of the film she makes one too many enemies and is found murdered.

The story then unfolds in a series of flashbacks blended seamlessly with Justin’s grieving and eventual search for the killers. We learn of conspiracy theories Tessa had involving drug manufacturers and assorted governments. We also catch glimpses of the couples strained “marriage of convenience” (Fiennes and Weisz happen to display little on screen chemistry and therefore are well cast). The film also starts out quite cold with de-saturated colors and clinical dialogue but eventually does become vibrant as the once dull Justin is transformed into a swashbuckling crusader for the truth.

“The Constant Gardener” does a very good job of showing how we live in a fallen world where corruption and greed are possible even in humanitarian organizations. In the film politicians turn a blind eye to a drug company’s crimes in exchange for the construction of a plant in their local district. While it is a work of fiction the filmmakers do manage to point fingers at American and British foreign policies. It does get a bit preachy at times but I do give them credit for trying to remind us that we are responsible for our government’s actions and non-actions.

Why is the world the way it is? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty?) If God is all-knowing, all-powerful and loving, would he really create a world like this? Answer

It is tempting though to question the true intentions of the author (novelist John Le Carré) and filmmakers. Did they think that the African AIDS crisis would get more exposure if its images were delivered in a slick political thriller? Or did they simply want to class up a run of the mill story of international intrigue by shoehorning in a socially conscious topic? Perhaps it was a little bit of both. Real images of the devastation brought on by poverty and AIDS are included, but unfortunately we don’t get to know the victims in much depth. The African people are used mostly as exotic set dressings or to trigger an emotional response from the audience.

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

In spite of its faults though the film has a heart and is well crafted so I recommend it. The subject matter is timely and deserves a spotlight (sub-Saharan Africa has just over 10% of the world’s population, but is home to more than 60% of all people living with HIV). More importantly it deserves action.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Possible objectionable content: Moderate profanity, brief female nudity, some violence, graphic hospital images

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Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Negative—This movie was filled with great actors, excellent cinematography and production; however, it displayed far more nudity than was necessary, and in fact, one of the earliest scenes enfolds with two main characters first meeting and immediately engaging in sexual activity. The movie intially presents a woman as wanton and unchaste, who prostitutes herself for “worldly” good causes. Her life is her work and she keeps secrets from her husband. This ultimately leads to her own death, then subsequently his, as he seeks to unravel the mystery behind the woman he was married to, but really didn’t entirely know.

Morally, notwithstanding the sexuality, there is an irresponsible and deceptive view underlying her motives as a voice-over states as in the words of the communist leader Leon Trotsky, “the end justifies the means.” This is subtle, yet pervasive throughout the film. Even the attempts to defend the humanity of the weak is at the high price of valuable human lives, relationships and integrity. It also displays British and American Alliance as completely corrupt and villainous in its affairs with foreign countries. Unfortunately, it also “pokes fun,” at the church with a doctor who is said to be a Follower of Jesus, who is in no wise of any such character and is no different from the others.

Though I’m a big fan of suspense and intrigue, this movie falls short. The best part of the film is the acting itself and the beautiful photography of Kenya.
My Ratings: Average/3
Ronda, age 39
Positive—I’m surprised to see that more people haven’t given this a positive. Although the story itself is not upbeat and positive, there is much to learn from it. I suppose this is why I liked it. I like movies that engage you and that are suspenseful, and this one was both. I do agree that we could have done without the sex and the bad language, but that’s Hollywood. And actually it wasn’t as bad as other movies. It’s not an entertainment movie, but rather a movie that forces you to realize that communication, honesty and integrity are vital in our lives. Without them we destroy ourselves and those we love.

It was sad to see their marriage slowly fall apart, and then to see both of them die, but I wasn’t surprised. It’s very sad that they died not really knowing each other even though they were married, but I went away thinking that my marriage is important enough to push on with improved communication, to always be honest and to always have integrity, If you like being intellectually stimulated, then it’s worth seeing. Even my husband liked it! And he’s more of an action movie guy.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4
Maria, age 36
Positive—I thought this movie was beautiful. A true work of art and a love story with a conscience. I by no means am a supporter of many of the characters’ points of view on politics, morals, or the world in general, but I can agree to disagree, and move on. It is a fact that many people I encounter in my daily life (even within my own family) have differing ideas than mine, and I would be a very unhappy person if I didn’t learn to accept that fact. It certainly doesn’t mean I lower my standards, it just means I am realistic about life and people. I will never reach a single person for Christ if I live in a self-righteous bubble and do not allow myself any contact with people or ideas unlike mine. The world will never be impacted if all the Christians stay away from the world.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Tara Tonjes, age 33
Positive—…This movie is nothing more than showing love for innocent people who are dying in the hands of corrupt politicians. Jesus commands us to love God and to love other people. There is nothing more important on this Earth than doing that. Jesus didn’t play the political game. Are we letting politics cloud our faith? …The important message in this movie is that people matter… ALL PEOPLE. …I highly recommend this movie for it’s message. It promotes the gospel message of Jesus Christ—to love people (no matter their faith or skin color or country of origin) and help those in need. Watch this movie, and put yourself in the role of the main characters… what would you do? Would you sit by and watch people suffer, or stand up and try to do something about it? I would hope that Christians would stand up and fight back, just as the characters in the movie did. … This movie is also good at pointing out how corruption is possible. We as Christians can take that point in the movie, and pray for those that are corrupt to see the pure love of Jesus. Because as much as we want to believe we live in a utopia (here in America), corruption happens. Closing our eyes doesn’t make it not so. But God knows, and praying about is the most powerful thing we can do.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
John Havens, age 33
Positive—…This film is not anti-America or anti-West, it is anti-GREED! …In the film, the characters acknowledge that there are too many needy people out there, and that we can’t help all of them, but we’d best be vigilant, otherwise we might miss that rare opportunity when we actually CAN help somebody. I can’t imagine that any true follower of Christ would disagree with that sentiment.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Tyler Smith, age 24
Neutral—This is a quite a well-produced movie, with almost a documentary dimension to the footage of African villages and circumstances. However, it is grim. Unlike polished Hollywood thrillers, there is no happy ending to this one. Certain scenes are actually difficult to watch, and I almost left.

The main story of the movie is how idealistic people risk their lives trying to expose and bring to justice unconscionable practices by pharmaceutical companies. I wonder if any of this thematic material was based on fact. I would not be surprised if it was. There is also quite a bit of sexual immorality interspersed throughout, and I supposed I should not be surprised by that. This is not a feel good movie. Very sad subject matter and very sad story. I am glad, however, to have seen scenes of Africa, which I believe to be factual, and the acting was especially good.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/5
Neutral—…a film that will appeal to those who enjoy mystery/suspense thrillers. The storyline focuses around the murder of a female activist/aid worker (Tessa Quayle) in Africa, and her diplomat husband Justin’s attempt to discover the true circumstances surrounding her death. Unaware of the secret nature of her work, Justin suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself caught in the crossfire of a multi-Billion dollar international conspiracy and cover-up over the secret testing of experimental drugs on marginalized populations in Africa.

Overall, this is an above average and well made film. Because it has a dark and gloomy feel to it and a somewhat tragic ending, it’s certainly not a good choice for “date night” with the spouse. There are adult themes (minor nudity) and some violence, neither of which is gratuitous nor disproportionate to the context. I would definitely not recommend this for children or young teens.

Some things that make The Constant Gardener worth seeing are:
  • Location—One of the main strengths of this film is that it was almost entirely filmed on location in Africa (Kenya). The extras throughout the film were the actual residents of the villages, giving the film an authentic quality which realistically depicts life among the poor in this area of the world.
  • Acting—Main characters were believable and well cast. Rachel Wieze (Tessa) received a Golden Globe nomination. Again, the extras and supporting characters gave the film an exceptionally realistic feel.
  • Unfolding Story—Suspense and mystery were heightened with a unique mixture of flashbacks to the past and events in the present, offering a progression of new information and clues, that effectively draws you into the story. The way in which the main character unexpectedly finds himself entangled in conspiracy and cover-up, is reminiscent of Tom Cruise in “The Firm,” except with the grittier feel of an African backdrop.
The movie contains three common Hollywood propagated stereotypes:
  • Evil Big Business—Big business/corporations are portrayed as inherently evil, this time in the form of a Multi-National Pharmaceutical Company, bent solely on maximizing profits at the expense of human life.
  • Imperialistic Oil Motivated U.S.A.—In a scene which depicts Justin meeting Tessa while giving a lecture at a University, she delivers an idealized outburst critical of British foreign policy, accusing the British Government of being puppets to the U.S. in its oil-grab motivated imperialistic invasion of Iraq (far-left liberal rhetoric).
  • Negative Portrayal of Christians—The only person of faith in the movie, a Christian aid worker, is portrayed as a cynically dark and un-authentic character, veiled with suspicious and self-serving religious motives to his work (as opposed to genuinely caring for the well being of people he’s serving).
My Ratings: Average / 3½
Bob Smiciklas, age 39
Negative—…a movie tailor made for Kofi Anon and Al Gore, not to mention the rest of their liberal entourage. …we hear the opening remarks of the co-star of the movie Rachel Wiez scream about how “stupid” the White House is, how the Iraq War is about oil and how about terrible the British Government is for being apart of such a terrible unrighteous slaughter of innocent people in Iraq. Sadly this is how the two stars begin their romance. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weiz meet by Fiennes hailing her as a heroic person with such conviction and how he admires her desire to see justice served.

The Constant Gardner is a thriller, romance and terribly slanted and wrong documentary about the pharmaceutical companies purposefully murdering African men, women and children by test marketing a new drug to the poverty stricken refugees. A product they plan on selling across the world. The movie blames the delemna of suffering on the lack of necessary drugs in Africa on the lack of funding because America and Britain are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies. They ignore the fact that the African government and the UN are tied in closely and completely ignore the fact that because both are corrupt and pocket the money that is given for aid, the true and provable reason the African people are not being helped.

The movie heats up when Rachel Weiz is murdered because of her drive to uncover the deadly plot that is being taken care of and Ralph Fiennes’s desire to find out who killed his wife as well as fulfill her mission of uncovering such a terrible plot. Ralph Fiennes’s start to uncover secrets, lies and betrayal which put his life in peril as well as those he cares about…

With politics aside I would say that this movie was well made, well acted, well directed and the African scenery was nothing less than gripping. As a reviewer I would give this movie 3 of 4 stars, however as a Christian and a Moderate Conservative, I would have to give this movie 1 of 4. The moral compass of the movie is “due left” and as liberal a movie as I have ever seen. This movie is Pro Gay, Pro Liberal, Anti Bush, Anti Blair, Anti Oil Companies, Anti Christian and Anti Pharmaceutical Companies. (Pay Special Attention to This: I am not saying that this is purposeful however one of the bad guys in the movie, the one with the most screen presence, actually resembles Jeb Bush. When I first saw him, I was thinking, wow he looks like Jeb and sure enough he was the bad guy, we quickly find out.) I know that you will say that this is my right wing mind thinking but just look at the picture and tell me that it does not look like Jeb. If this is on accident, well then call me crazy.

I am the kind of person who prides myself on seeing both sides of an issue and really strives to understand where other people are coming from. Even if I totally disagree with their point of view. However, blatant dishonestly clothed in truth is very hard for me to understand. I know that many who have seen this movie will say “oh its just a movie,” I say BS in huge words (BS = Bologna Slinging). This movie is clearly made with an agenda that screams hatred toward conservatives and hatred toward the US Government and British Government. There is not escaping that The Constant Gardner is growing nothing but weeds in the garden of total fertilizer.

…for Parents: There pregnant nudity, sexual foreplay, moderate language and realistic violence—some of which is real footage. I would not recommend this movie really to anyone because of subject matter and material. Many I know have wanted to see this movie, that is one of the reason I went and I would tell anyone desiring to see it to pay attention to other reviews hailing this movie as a cinematic triumph. Sadly, I did not read any reviews and had no clue what it was about before I saw it.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/3
John Kehrli (ChristianHotSpot), age 31

Comments from young people

Positive—This movie is absolutely amazing! Reason being is that no matter how much the Left wants to accept it as a Liberal film and some of the Right want to reject it as liberal nonsense, the reality is that this movie is neither. This movie is simply an exercise in trying to open people’s eyes. It does show drug companies as being somewhat greedy and allowing unstable drugs to be tested on the people of Africa who seem “disposable.” But, the truth is the truth and sometimes it forces all of us to see what we don’t want to.

Politics aside, this movie is gripping in all aspects. Ralph Fiennes is on the highest marks as Justin Quayle—he really makes you care about what his character is searching for. Rachel Weisz, though not given the biggest part, is great. The supporting cast, such as Bill Nighy, is also quite amazing. Not to mention how great the cinematography is. Some may get sick of the “shaky camera” filming, but it’s really not all that bad. The scenes in Africa are amazing—the people, the life, and the natural beauty. The film is a full throttle thriller, but is also based in a very human story of how we need to realize some of the injustices that happen every day and do what we can to change it.

This film is not appropriate for everyone though, due to some strong language, a scene of suggestive sexuality, and nudity. I suggest this film to anyone who can look passed it’s very minor content flaws and see it for the intelligent, gripping thriller that it is.
My Ratings: Average/5
Andrew, age 17
Movie Critics
…If your politics lean left of center, you’ll love this movie. …
World Magazine, Andrew Coffin
…one of the year’s best films…
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert
…The movie is smart, serious, and adult about something that matters…
Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum
…slow-burning thriller defies strict genre conventions…
Chicago Tribune, Robert K. Elder
…smart thriller… captures the chaotic quality of contemporary politics…
Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News
…often talky, Euro-centric tale of betrayal, venality and corporate malfeasance…
The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt
…Intelligent thriller… sentimental, rousing and convicting… This is a message movie first and foremost, but it injects its agenda smoothly…
Plugged In, Steven Isaac