Meli and I (and some of her friends from work) saw The Constant Gardener last night, a movie that was exactly as dull as its title suggests. In fact, a more accurate title might have been The Tedious Non-Adventures of Ambassador Boring and His Self-Righteous, Meddlesome Wife. This was a movie that I didn't like.
Meli read the book while we were in Hawaii and liked it, but didn't love it. She described the story to me and it sounded interesting, both in terms of its central premise -- a woman is murdered because she's about to expose massive corruption involving the practices of a large pharmaceutical company operating in Africa -- and in terms of the character dynamics between the save-the-world wife (Tessa, played by Rachel Weisz) and her prim and proper English diplomat husband (Justin, played by Ralph Feinnes), who takes on the task of solving her murder and completing her work. Not having read the book, I couldn't say how well this stuff actually plays out on paper (Meli seems to think that it held together but ultimately had some glaring flaws). The movie version basically takes both plot devices and takes massive dumps on their respective heads.
I should say that about 60% of the way into the movie, by which time I had long since given up on enjoying it, the murder-mystery story really gets going and the film becomes somewhat watchable. Almost everything up until that point is unbearable. Over the course of about 80 minutes of grueling exposition, which toggles awkwardly between heavy-handed and ham-handed, we get the gist of what the husband and wife are all about, along with the cadre of one-dimensional supporting characters that surround them. Although the wife has dedicated her life to the noble pursuit of human rights in Africa, almost everything about her life is a secret from her husband. Apart from the "Hooray we're pregnant!" flashbacks (see below), Justin and Tessa are basically roommates, with Justin desparately yearning to know what's really going on with Tessa, and Tessa stubbornly and irrationally shutting him out.
In the book, I'm told, Justin and Tessa's respective professional lives are secrets from each other, but they're nonetheless deeply connected personally. They have a vibrant, healthy marriage, keeping their respective professions separate out of mutual respect. None of that comes across in the movie. The result is that Justin's obsession with solving Tessa's murder seems driven more by his morbid curiosity about what she was doing during their marriage than by his love for her as his wife. On the one hand, this doesn't really make me care too much about him solving her murder, since he's drive by curiosity rather than love. On the other hand, this motivation could have worked out fine during the murder-mystery portion of the movie, if the director didn't constantly interrupt the action by reminding his that, yeah, Justin was actually in love with Tessa, and that's what this is really about. It also left me wondering why I had to sit through over an hour of tedious flashbacks about how Justin and Tessa were in love, so in love, no really really fucking in love, so much so that Justin liked looking at Tessa naked even when she was pregnant, and here's what a naked pregnant woman looks like in case you were wondering. And here she is again, and again, and here's another shot of the naked pregnant woman, you know, just in case you didn't get the point the first nine times.
I actually had to leave the theater for a few minutes about halfway into the movie since the flashback sequences were shot in a shaky, hand-held camera fashion, which made me nauseous. I assume it was the camera work that made me sick, though I've never had that problem in other shaky-camera movies. My stomach may have just been reacting to the realization that this was how I was spending nine dollars and three hours of my life.
The good points? There was one. Ralph "Raif" Feinnes. He's an excellent actor, even when portraying a character that I want to punch in the face over and over again, and he's also a breath-takingly handsome man. During the Matrix: Revolutions-style uncomfortable lovemaking scene I found myself admiring Ralph more than Rachel. But if all you're looking for is some nice Ralph Feinnes action you may as well just wait until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes out in a few months. Ralph plays Voldemort in the new Harry Potter movie, a character that will no doubt prove to be infinitely more complex and likeable than Ambassador Boring.