Gardener harvests praise

The Constant Gardener is gaining praise from critics and audiences across the country for offering adult subject matter but, more importantly, for not underestimating its viewers. The film is one of the recent releases thought to revitalize the political thriller genre, which went through a drought in the late 1990s.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz deliver strong performances under the guidance of Fernando Meirelles, who backs up his Academy Award nomination for 2002’s City of God. Meirelles crafts a lush, surreal African setting where things are too pristine to be real and then suddenly shifts the film’s tones, pulling the viewers further into the mystery of The Constant Gardener.

Earlier this year, The Interpreter got audiences pre-emptively excited, as it offered Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn together on screen and was the first film to feature the United Nations on screen. But The Interpreter relied heavily on cliches. The Constant Gardener utilizes its talented cast and a solid screenplay rather than glossy images of the U.N. building. The movie shows a part of the world normally not explored by Hollywood flicks.

What makes films about political corruption so intriguing? The answer is simple. No matter how far fetched the concept, it’s not hard to imagine a government agency or terrorist organization thinking along the lines of these convoluted plots. Whether it’s mind control (The Manchurian Candidate) or personality assassination (The Contender), all are plausible in our society.

Taking a look back, films such as JFK and the original Manchurian Candidate built on basic American fears about the darkly cloaked government. The genre itself has delivered more than its share of duds but, in recent years, has been on a hot streak due in part to Americans becoming more politically aware. Those looking for films offering the same seriousness and maturity of The Constant Gardner will have to look no further than these:

The Contender (2000) – More than a few feathers are ruffled when the president (Jeff Bridges) decides to replace his recently deceased vice president with a female senator (Joan Allen). Tensions rise within the party as the president is merely trying to cement his own legacy. Allen, Bridges and an impeccable Gary Oldman carry the film with career-best performances.

Spartan (2003) – Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is an elite officer with a mission to find a possibly kidnapped daughter. The crime leads Scott to uncover the deep connection with many government agencies and officials. The film boasts a strong cast that includes William H. Macy, Derek Luke and Ed O’Neill (yes, he’s Al Bundy to most of us).

JFK (1990) – Oliver Stone works his magic behind the camera to recreate one of the most tragic events in American history. JFK stands as one of the greatest political thrillers of all time with a knockout performance from the usually dull Kevin Costner. The film is a cornerstone for those in search of a political thriller with both purpose and intelligence.

Following the path of so many distinct thrillers, The Constant Gardener easily stands as one of the genre’s crowning works. It challenges, engages and, more importantly, entertains without having to resort to the latest special effects or overblown explosions.