Monday, March 20, 2006

Quayles have always made reliable foreign service men [March 05, 2006]

Imagine a thriller that works its narrative with talk and memories, a thriller that seems more like the discovery of love from reminiscences, a thriller that feels like a hypnotic dream with the bittersweet ache of futility. That's how I'd remember The Constant Gardener. The titular character is a diligent almost boring diplomat, whose wife has been murdered. In trying to find out who did it, he learns more about his wife and the complex contract of their love.

Flashbacks are combined with the present in a montage of shots and frames that, although often frenetic with activity, takes you from one room to another in a dream world. This is not what you would expect from a thriller, but it's probably what you'd expect from Le Carré. I have not read any of his books and this is the first adaptation of his work for the screen that I've seen. But there seems to be a lot in common with things in Graham Greene's universe (consider The Quiet American). Despite containing elements of one man's struggle against a large evil corporation, the film is really all about Justin and Tessa. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz admirably make these parts their own and Pete Postlethwaite makes the most of his cameo.

There's a sense of detachment to Justin's crusade for the truth and this detachment spills over as we react to his plight. We empathise with his loss, we share his reactions to every discovery he makes, but we aren't profoundly affected by the events that affect him. The sense of detachment imbues the film with a larger (almost theatrical) sense of tragedy making it (paradoxically perhaps) more effect as human drama.

This is a film that will thwart your expectations if you're looking for slick chase sequences, gun battles, explosions, wisecracks and the like. But if you're looking for intelligent conversation and the exploration of grief, loss and love, this is one hell of a rewarding experience. The soundtrack's a great complement to the mood, and Ayub Ogada's Kothibiro, which seems to function as the film's unofficial theme, will stay with you long after the end credits are over.

Niggling detail: There's a character of Indian origin who's on Justin's side named Ghita Pearson. I'm not sure why Le Carré spelled that name as "Ghita"; shouldn't it be Gita/Geeta?

Here's one for the Apostrophe Protection Society: CDs appears as CD's in one of the subtitles

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