Released: Aug. 31
U.S. distrib: Focus Features
Oscar alumnus: Claire Simpson (editor, “Platoon”)
With his dense plotlines and Dickensian mass of characters, master spy novelist John le Carre has presented a daunting, often insurmountable challenge to the filmmakers who’ve translated his work to the bigscreen.
With “The Constant Gardener,” helmer Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine pulled off the admirable job of remaining quite faithful to the source material while making the adaptation very much their creation.
With its adult subject matter, well-known cast and ecstatic critical support — not to mention a decidedly liberal point of view — pic should appeal to Oscar voters who generally like their politics left-leaning. However, many had similar hopes for “The Quiet American” in 2003, and all that film ended up with was an actor nom for Oscar perennial Michael Caine.
The film tells the story of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a midlevel English diplomat in Kenya, whose passionate, politically outspoken wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), has been murdered. While the case initially seems to be a crime of passion, Quayle eventually discovers a vast international cover-up involving a drug company and the British government.
Meirelles, a commercials director in his native Brazil, burst on the international film scene in 2002 with “City of God,” an enthralling glimpse into Rio’s criminal underworld. With “Gardener,” Meirelles and lenser Cesar Charlone — both of whom earned 2003 noms for “God” — take a risk by applying much of the first film’s visual feel to more nuanced source material. The gamble pays off, as the frenetic handheld camerawork and saturated palette help to give the film an edgy, unconventional feel. Their approach, however, might be too arty for Academy voters, who have long shown a predilection for more classic, straightforward visual storytelling.
Scripting, however, has historically been given a little more leeway, as evidenced by Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth’s 2004 win for “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.” By any standard, Jeffrey Caine did an admirable job in conveying the moral and ethical murkiness of marriage and international diplomacy in a narrative that is constantly shifting backwards and forwards in time. Editor Claire Simpson weaves the strands together with finesse.
Fiennes and Weisz, along with supporting thesps Danny Houston and Bill Nighy as heavies, all shine in roles that seem to have been written with them in mind and could be given serious consideration by voters. (Focus will be pushing Weisz in the supporting category.)