Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
Written by:Jeffrey Caine
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Hubert Kounde, Bill Nighy, Keith Pearson
Released: November 17, 2005
Grade: A

Everyone in Hollywood knows the importance of winning an Oscar.  Films which are nominated get increased exposure which results in an increased box-office.  For the cast and crew who are nominated, it’s almost certainly going to lead to more high-profile roles and bigger pay cheques.

For this reason, getting a film nominated at the Academy Awards has become an art form.  Studios have set marketing strategies in place and spend millions on very specific campaigns.  One consistence though is that the film must be released at the very end of the year (in the United States).  They think, and it’s turned out to be true, that Academy voters have short mind-spans.  If you release a film in December (close to when the votes are lodged), it’s going to be a lot easier to remember than a film released back in January.  Did you know that the last four films to win the best picture Oscar were released in December?

I point this out because the Oscar season is almost upon us.  Action blockbusters take a back seat as the studios churn out their “quality” releases.  They’ve been sitting on them for close to 12 months.  Finally we get to see them and remember just how good movies can be.

The Constant Gardener is the first major entrant in this year’s Oscar race.  It should come as no surprise given the reputation of Fernando Meirelles, the film’s director.  In 2002 Meirelles made City Of God - a film about two boys growing up in Rio De Janeiro.  Despite having subtitles (which is a turnoff for so many), the film was nominated for four Academy Awards and is ranked by the public at the Internet Movie Database as one of the top 20 films of all time.  I’m not sure I’d rank it so highly but I’ll tell you that it’s a damn good film.

Meirelles’ follow-up is based on the novel John le Carre and is set in Northern Kenya.  Justin Quayle (Fiennes), an English diplomat, has just learned his wife, Tessa (Weisz), has been killed in a car accident.  He suspects foul play and knew that his wife was working on a secret investigation that she didn’t want to involve him in.  Despite the authorities believing it to be an “open and shut” case, Justin goes on a determined search for the truth.  The deeper he digs, the darker it is getting…

The tension builds as the film progresses and we see Ralph Fiennes go from a shy, awkward man into a passionate, unrelenting individual who is prepared to take on any risk.  It’s a top performance from Fiennes but I feel guilty in singling him out from the rest of the cast because they really all are very good.

It’s also a very topical film.  There are some parts to the story which I wouldn’t ordinarily believe but having seen documentaries such as The Corporation and Enron: The Smartest In The Room, I’m not surprised at all.  It’s remarkable how people can distance themselves from a problem and feel less responsible.  You’ll note that I haven’t gone into much detail and I hope I’ve created enough intrigue to get you off your butt and into the movie theatre.

Throw in some wonderful panoramic shots of Kenya and a snazzy African soundtrack and you have everything that a great drama should be.  The Constant Gardener is one of the year’s finest and if it’s a sign of the upcoming Oscar releases, please bring them on!