a commentary by Tony McRae  

John Le Carré’s novels have not always transferred easily onto the big screen.  The obvious exception “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1965) starring Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner.  The TV adaptations are much better:  three TV mini-series: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (TV series ’79 with Alec Guiness); “Smiley’s People” (TV series with Alec Guiness ’82); “A Perfect Spy” ’87.   

“The Constant Gardner ” deserves to be alongside these, the best feature film since “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.”   

One reason it’s so difficult to make the transfer to the big screen is the layered approach Le Carré takes, combining espionage, historical detail, and subtle character development, all in a style that does not give easy black and white answers.  For John Le Carré the world is dangerously gray.  

The star of this movie is Africa, or more precisely Kenya, where the majority of it was shot, though the story takes us also into southern Sudan which, at present, is too dangerous a place to bring a movie crew.   We see first hand the poverty and incredible resilience of the African people.  At the heart of Le Carré’s story is the betrayal of Africa by the colonialists and, in this case, the drug companies who conspire to make millions at the expense of those dying of AIDS and TB, the next epidemic.   

Director Fernando Meirelles uses many of the same devices he used in “City of God ,” a movie set in the slum of Rio de Janeiro, though Meirelles said that the slums of Kenya are far worse than anything he ever saw in his native Brazil.

The story is told by inserting flashbacks—it’s not at all gimmicky but adds greatly to the story’s impact by gradually revealing what’s really going on in Kenya.  It’s a wonderful device since we westerners are so ignorant of Africa .   

The cast is very good: Ralph Fiennes has his best role since “Spider”; Rachel Weisz is the feisty Tessa who eventually bring her husband into the real world; Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, always good; Hubert Koundé (La Haine); Richard McCabe.  

Rated R for some language, some violence, and sexual content.