It will take a long time or a phenomenal project for Fernando Meirelles to top his last film, 2002's dazzling (if slightly overrated) bullet-fest "City of God." "The Constant Gardener," though well-crafted and sufficiently disturbing, doesn't have near the impact of Meirelles' previous art-house hit. Nor do its bigger-name stars shine with any more brightness than the unknowns of "City of God."
With few exceptions, Ralph Fiennes has, since the powerhouse performance in "Schindler's List" that introduced him to American audiences, starred in a slew of forgettable dramas -- and let us never again utter the words "Maid in Manhattan" -- that have done little to showcase his seemingly formidable talents. In "The Constant Gardener," he is once again in meek-Brit mode, and while he remains solid, one would get good odds on a bet that this is yet another of his performances that will fall off the face of the earth before the leaves start to change color. To be fair, it will be difficult for him to find a role as meaty as that of Nazi extraordinaire Amon Goeth, but it would be a shame if that turns out to be his finest.
Regardless of Fiennes's filmographic shortcomings, "The Constant Gardner" should manage to adequately appall the viewer by showcasing yet another example, albeit a fictitious one, of human greed trumping human conscience in the third world. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Danny Huston. Directed by Fernando Meirelles. Produced by Simon Channing Williams. Written by Jeffrey Caine. A Focus release. Drama. Rated R for language, some violent images and sexual content/nudity. Running time: 129 min