F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 6, 2009)

6 11 2009

This week’s “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie) is one that I fully believe has the power to change the world.  “The Constant Gardener” is so emotionally compelling that it can force you to question every opinion you have about helping those in poverty.  I have seen firsthand the poorest people in our hemisphere during a mission trip to Nicaragua this summer, but this movie hit me at nearly the same level.  Director Fernando Mierelles (“City of God“) doesn’t treat their indigence as some sort of spectacle.  He treats them with humanity, willing to feature them as real people with hearts and feelings just like the diplomat played by Ralph Fiennes.  Mierelles almost does for the poor in movies what Dickens did for the poor with literature.

“The Constant Gardener” gained some prestige from Rachel Weisz’s Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress, an award that she unquestionably deserved.  But don’t be fooled by the word “supporting.”  She may not have a great deal of screen time, but the character Tessa, who she plays with brilliance and compassion, is the dominant focus of the movie.  Tessa is a crusader for justice investigating a pharmaceutical company using the destitute in Africa as guinea pigs but possibly treating them like flies, unafraid to alter results of their tests for the betterment of their company.  Her inquiry into the potentially corrupt dealings of the corporations leads her into dangerous territory, unwittingly drawing her husband, Justin (Fiennes), into the fray.  What ensues is a startling portrayal of the consequences of one man trying to do the right thing for the people who don’t have aren’t given a voice.

While “The Constant Gardener” may not exhibit Mierelles’ directorial prowess quite like “City of God,” it is still a breathtaking achievement.  It is unlike most political thrillers, which are usually entangled in plot twists, and conveys a simple story with huge moral implications.  The movie will make you cry for its content, but on a grander level, it will make you weep for the people that Justin and Tessa try to defend.  How much is one life worth?  How far would you go to save a life?  Should help be given to the individual or the group?  “The Constant Gardener” grapples with those questions, but ultimately leaves you to ponder how you feel about the issues.