Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Movie Review: The Constant Gardener

Talk to any avid reader, and they’ll tell you the same thing: a movie based on a book is never as good as the book itself. There have been a few exceptions, but it’s usually the case. The problem is that you can’t get the same kind of detail from a movie as you can from a book. This is especially true when the book was written by a really good writer. The Constant Gardener was written by John le Carré, who’s a great writer, so it’s very much true in this case, too.

I had mixed feelings about the movie. All in all, I think it was very good—no surprise there—but not as good as the book—even less surprise there. For the first half of the movie, or so, I didn’t feel too good about it. I thought they’d compromised on some things. But I found out they hadn’t, as the movie went on, which was very good news. They just changed the order of some things, which I understand, because they were trying to squeeze it all in, however they could.

Unfortunately, I can’t say too much about the movie, because I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that I recommend it highly, but I recommend the book even more highly. (Even if you’ve already seen the movie, I still recommend the book.) Like I said, le Carré is a great writer, and he unfolds things better in writing than the director (and screen writer) ever could in a movie. The movie is only two hours long—already a bit long for a movie; North American audiences can only sit through so much—but in order to fit a book into a movie of that length, you have to take some shortcuts.

On the cinematic aspects of the movie, I was very pleased. The choice in actors was perfect; they all suited their characters perfectly. Well, maybe they could have picked someone more enigmatic than Rachel Weisz for Tessa, but still, I thought she did a good job.

(This might be a good part to mention one thing I found very unrealistic, about both the movie and the book: Tessa being married to Justin. Especially in the movie, she was portrayed as a great activist, while he was portrayed as a career diplomat, who didn’t want to get involved. It’s easy to put Andrea in Tessa’s place, or many other people I’ve met who are activists, or in the non-profit sector, but I can’t see any of them marrying someone like Justin. At some point, the politics would always get in the way. But in the movies, when we meet activists, it’s always portrayed like the activism is just part of their personality, and that they can set it aside from time to time. They’re so patient with their significant others, as they try to teach them about their activism; but, from time to time, they can set aside, oh, everything that they believe in, for a cute little love scene. It just doesn’t ring true. I’m not saying that an activist is “on” 24/7, or that they don’t have love lives. They don’t just think about social justice at every moment of their lives. But it doesn’t ring true in the movies when they marry someone who isn’t interested in social justice, and it gets treated like just any other thing that you have to work through in a marriage. “My wife never picks up after herself!” “Oh, I know exactly how you feel! My husband works for a company that’s killing thousands of people in Africa! It’s so annoying!”)

And of course, Ralph Fiennes was perfect to play Justin, as I’m sure everyone has said. He had the perfect mix of qualities to bring le Carré’s character to life. I was also pleasantly surprised by Bill Nighy as Sir Bernard Pellegrin. After seeing him as Slartibartfast in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it was strange but fitting to see him in the role of a career diplomat. I thought he was perfect for the role.

The cinematography was beautiful, too, but that was partially because the movie was filmed in Africa. All they had to do was turn on the cameras, and let the beauty of Africa get caught on film, and they had stunning visuals.

After seeing this movie, it reminds me again of the novel I started, which I haven’t done any work on in… well, in much too long. I really need to get back to work on it. I’m not a writer in le Carré’s league, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a writer at all. There is room in the world for mediocre writers, as much as there is for great writers. (And terrible writers—I hope I’m not one of those. But if it ever gets published, time, my readers, and my critics, will tell.)


Anonymous said...

Rachel Weisz was amazing as Tessa and i'm glad she won the Oscar for her great performance.