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Forget the hype: ‘Constant Gardener’ consistently shallow

The Constant Gardener” is one of those movies that gets a lot of hype, causing high expectations going in. Maybe the two people who fell asleep in the first 15 minutes of the film had the right idea, as the movie was brilliantly acted but lacking in several other areas.

The movie is based on John le Carre’s best-selling novel. “The Constant Gardener” takes place in a remote area of Northern Kenya and begins almost immediately with the brutal murder of activist Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz), then flashes back to how she got to that point.

Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is a mild-mannered diplomat and member of the British High Commission who meets Tessa when she attends one of his lectures. Her ire for the injustice occurring in Nairobi sends everyone fleeing from the lecture, but her passion ignites interest from Justin, and the two are tumbling in the sheets before the night is over.

Shortly after, the couple is married and Tessa disembarks for Nairobi where she teams up with Dr. Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Kounde). The two are seen together constantly, often huddled close together in intimate conversation and laughing. She carelessly continues her mission even while pregnant and eventually loses the baby.

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When Tessa is found murdered and there’s no sight of her companion Arnold, things don’t add up. Justin immediately flies to Africa - now supposedly consumed with Tessa’s passion - to delve into the mystery. He finds few people willing to help, and those who comply often turn out to be liars.

Justin does learn that Tessa believed a crime was being perpetrated by a drug company that offered drugs to Africans with AIDS, drugs that were supposed to be one thing but were actually something else. When he follows these leads, he turns up more questions than

answers, as well as accusations that

his wife was romantically involved

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with Arnold.

Even their good friend Sandy (Danny Huston) never fully lays his card on the table. He’s for Tessa one moment, even offering to trade high-class secret documents with her for sexual favors, then turns against her the next.

Besides the fact that the drugs and political subplots are cliche, part of the problem of this film is the lack of emotional development of the characters. This is certainly not the fault of Fiennes or Weisz, who give exceptional performances. It’s a script problem. We see so little of Justin and Tessa before they are married, and they have so little in common, we wonder what drove them into each other’s arms.

When Justin

uncovers so many secrets that Tessa kept from him, it reminds us there was no logical reason why she would have married him if they didn’t have the same passions and she couldn’t even trust him to share hers. She’s

all fire and activism; he’s an “it’s not our problem” kind of guy.

Sure, sometimes opposites attract, but in this instance it doesn’t make sense and it’s really hard to fathom that Justin wants to fill her shoes and complete her mission when she dies.

Anyone looking for a great message movie in the same vein of this film found it in the inspirational and heartfelt

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“Hotel Rwanda” or even in Academy Award-nominated director Fernando Meirelles’ previous film, “City of God,” which had a far more compelling and logical story.

Another problem with the film is that it seemed lacking visually and sound-wise. Often the characters mumbled, and it was sometimes hard to figure out who was who on the screen.

The only true emotion in the film comes from real life on the streets in Kenya, where the film was shot. The way they live in this slum is so devastating, but it’s clear that there is still a spirit of acceptance and hope on so many smiling faces.

The ending of “The Constant Gardener” is probably the worst element of the film. Still, compared with what’s out there, this may a better film than most in the theater at the present.

“The Constant Gardener” is playing at AMC La Jolla 12.