Espirit de Corps
Giant corporations are, we now know, evil. Ninety-
These things are part of the common knowledge and as such, do not unduly weigh themselves upon the minds of ordinary folk. Not many could process this kind of insanity anyway without either shutting down in catatonic trances or taking up arms and becoming anarchist outlaws, and either action would make it difficult to pop out this weekend to Wal-
The genius of The Constant Gardener is that its central question of suspense is not “What horrifying crimes against humanity are multinational corporations, in cahoots with governments around the world, committing this time?” That is a small part of the film’s suspense, but only a small part, because, Duh, of course the powerful white men are up to something nefarious. The central question of suspense here is, “What is one not-
Russell Crowe found himself staring the deceit of tobacco companies in the face (duh: of course Big Tobacco knew about the dangers of smoking their cancer sticks but covered it up), but here Ralph Fiennes (The Good Thief, Maid in Manhattan) takes quite a while to open his willfully closed eyes. His Justin Quayle, a low-
His wife, though, is a bit of a problem. Tessa (Rachel Weisz: Constantine, Runaway Jury) is something of a quaint hippie throwback, a professional troublemaker: Isn’t it cute how she works with HIV-
It takes, in fact, her death to begin to wake him up. (This happens quite early in the film, and spoils nothing to reveal; much of the story is occupied with flashbacks during which their contentious relationship unfurls.) She heads off on a factfinding mission and ends up dead by a roadside; the authorities suggest bandits or, perhaps, that she was having an affair with her coworker/fellow agitator (Hubert Koundé); later the film floats the chilling term “corporate murder,” but, duh, you already knew that was the most likely explanation.
Oh, I suppose The Constant Gardener is a thriller, in some respects, but mostly it’s a tragedy. For Justin, it’s the tragedy of only coming to geniunely know and appreciate and even love his wife after she’s gone, as he retraces her footsteps in a griefstricken effort to find out why she was killed and finds himself awakening to the reality she lived in, of corporate and government collusion in Very Bad Things, of poor, desperate people taken advantage of because they have no voice to protest such treatement with. And it’s a tragedy for us, because we saw Tessa as quaint and outmoded and Justin as logical and reasonable when what the world urgently needs is the passion of more Tessas, when the remove of the Justins contributes to problems so enormous they seem unfixable.
We get there by the end, along with Justin, who once dismissed Tessa’s efforts to Do Something with “There are millions of people — they all need help” but comes to realize the immense value of helping just one of those millions. But as dynamic and alive as Fernando Meirelles’s film is (it’s not the revelation his City of God was, but it is the best of what big-