DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Fernando Meirelles
Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Koundé, Danny Huston, Daniele Harford, Packson Ngugi, Damaris Itenyo Agweyu, Bernard Otieno Oduor, Bill Nighy
Writing Credits:
John le Carré (novel), Jeffrey Caine

Love. At any cost.

When activist Tessa Quayle (Weisz) is found murdered in Northern Kenya, her widower, Justin (Fiennes), suspects that she had been having an affair. As Justin begins investigating Tessa's death, he uncovers a conspiracy involving pharmaceutical companies in the United States and the local Kenyan government.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Opening Weekend
$10.961 million on 1346 screens.
Domestic Gross
$33.565 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 1/10/2006

• Deleted Scenes
• Extended Scene
• “Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya” Featurette
• “John Le Carre: From Page to the Screen” Featurette
• “Anatomy of a Global Thriller: Behind the Scenes of The Constant Gardener” Featurette
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Constant Gardener (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 6, 2006)

Sometimes you can tell a movie won’t make it big simply based on its title. Something about the name The Constant Gardener tells us it wouldn’t sizzle at the box office, and it didn’t; it snagged a mere $33 million.

But everything’s relative, and $33 million wasn’t bad for a fairly low-budget little flick that no one ever expected to drag in a mass audience. It received a good reception and seems likely to bring in more viewers on DVD.

That’d be a deserved audience, as Gardener presents an unusually subdued form of thriller. The film starts in Africa, where we learn that Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz) has been murdered along with her friend and co-worker, Dr. Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé). The movie immediately launches into flashbacks to show her rapid romance with husband Justin (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat. We see how they ended up in Africa and what activities Tessa the do-gooder pursued.

Justin slowly starts to suspect that her killing wasn’t just an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He finds that Tessa had been investigating improprieties by big pharmaceutical companies with ties to other parties. These include Justin’s friend Sandy (Danny Huston) as well as many others we get to know. The movie follows Justin’s search for the truth behind Tessa’s death and all the connected complications.

To its credit, Gardener never becomes so tied up in those complications that it loses track of its focus. At its heart, this is a tragic love story in which Justin pursues the facts largely to redeem his wife’s death. He doesn’t search for the information as part of some societal crusade; indeed, those elements seem almost incidental, although we feel that Justin does care about the impact on Africa. Nonetheless, he follows his passion more than his conscience.

That gives Gardener more of an impact than it might’ve possessed if it went down the standard path. Most films of this sort go for the social areas, and that seems logical, I suppose. However, a more personal approach adds a different sense of importance and develops more emotion than otherwise might occur.

I like the way in which the story unfolds. At the start, it slightly veers off onto themes connected to infidelity. Those throw us off and make us think the movie will go in one direction, but it gradually leads us toward the darker conspiracy side of things. The film connects these facets smoothly, as it moves naturally and doesn’t force them.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about Fiennes as an actor. He plays a lot of roles like Justin: the stiff-upper-lip sort who has to face his repressed emotions. That said, he does more than fine in the part. Justin grows in a believable manner and Fiennes allows his feelings to develop along the way. And while I don’t buy her as a 24-year-old, Weisz brings fire and personality to Tessa; we understand why she haunts Justin as she does.

It seems a little inappropriate to refer to The Constant Gardener as a “thriller”, since that genre usually goes with a lot more action. The moniker might sell this flick short, since it pigeonholes it more than I’d like. Gardener includes elements of a thriller but expands them in a human manner that allows it to become something more special.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus C

The Constant Gardener appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. An extremely stylized film, the picture had some flaws but usually worked well within its constraints.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. Some light softness crept in at times, but not with any real frequency. Instead, most of the flick appeared well defined and detailed. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I also saw some mild to moderate edge enhancement throughout the movie. Print flaws showed a few specks, and intentional grain also appeared.

Gardener presented a mostly limited palette that featured largely stylized colors. Within those parameters, the tones looked fine. When allowed to shine, they looked quite vivid, and they worked well as depicted. Black levels seemed fairly deep and firm, while shadows were clean and well-developed. Ultimately, Gardener seemed a little erratic but generally positive.

As for the audio, The Constant Gardener presented a surprisingly impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Much of the time, the mix stayed fairly subdued. It offered nice stereo imaging for music, and the score also spread smoothly to the surrounds. Effects usually went with a general sense of ambience, but they created a smooth sense of setting that also added good reinforcement from the rear. There wasn’t much of particular note, but this seemed like a rather useful mix in its own quiet way.

Audio quality appeared solid. Speech consistently came across as natural and concise, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music seemed clear and vivid, as the score presented firm tones. The percussive elements sounded especially good. Effects also appeared clean and accurate. They suffered from no distortion and boasted fine bass response during the appropriate sequences. In the end, the audio of Gardener served the movie well. Despite the generally limited soundfield, I thought it sounded so good that it deserved a “B+.

A moderately small set of extras fills out the DVD. Four Deleted Scenes run a total of 10 minutes, 33 seconds. We also get an Extended Scene that lasts nine minutes, 41 seconds. The first three deleted pieces essentially offer more exposition, most of which is repetitive; the only truly interesting one shows more with Sandy and his wife. The fourth deleted scene is little more than a musical montage that lets us see more of the Kenyan local flavor. As for the extended clip, it offers much more of the AIDS-related play staged in Kenya; we see it without any editing to include story points. It’s neat as a DVD extra but it definitely shouldn’t have been in the movie.

Three featurettes come next. Embracing Africa: Filming in Kenya goes for nine minutes and 28 seconds. It offers the standard mix of movie clips, behind the scenes material, and interviews. We find notes from director Fernando Meirelles, producer Simon Channing Williams, Kenyan casting director Emily Mabonga, Kenyan location manager John Chavanga, Kibera community chairman David, supervising location and unit manager Robin Hollister, and actors Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz.

As implied by the title, “Embracing” looks at what it was like to shoot in Africa. We learn why they chose to work in Kenya, how they collaborated with the local communities, and various challenges. While some good tidbits emerge, a lot of this comes across as self-congratulatory. The participants pat themselves on the back since they worked with the locals and didn’t just force themselves on them. That’s good, but I’d prefer a featurette with more facts and less praise.

John le Carre: From Page to the Screen fills eight minutes, seven seconds, and includes remarks from Williams, Meirelles, writer le Carre, and former British High Commissioner Sir Edward Clay. We learn a little about le Carre’s attitude toward the movie business, the development of Gardener, its path to the screen, and the perspective Meirelles brought to the material. As with “Embracing”, more happy talk dominates “Page”. It offers a smattering of useful pieces but not as much as I’d like and expect.

Finally, Anatomy of a Global Thriller: Behind the Scenes of The Constant Gardener takes 11 minutes and 34 seconds. It features information from Fiennes, Meirelles, Weisz, le Carre, Williams and actors Danny Huston, Domald Sumpter, Pete Postlethwaite and Bill Nighy. Your basic promotional program, “Anatomy” offers lots of movie clips and very little new information. It directly lifts some parts of “Embracing” and just touts the story and characters with much of the remaining time. It doesn’t offer us much of use.

At the start of the DVD, we find ads for Brick, Cinderella Man, Focus Features and the various Law and Order TV series. No trailer for Gardener appears.

Most modern thrillers beat us over the head with relentlessly aggressive visuals and overwrought action. On the other hand, The Constant Gardener provides a considerably more subtle affair. This makes it quite effective and involving. The DVD features pretty positive picture and audio but lacks substantial extras. Still, the movie’s good enough to at least merit a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.16 Stars Number of Votes: 25
3 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.