The Constant Gardener has been marketed as a thriller but is really one of the most extraordinary love stories to play on the big screen in years.
Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes play odd-couple Tessa and Justin Quayle; he's a measured, quiet British diplomat, she's a fireball of social activism. They come together at a lecture he is giving, where she stands up and rails against the British government, literally breaking down in tears. What follows is possibly the most realistic, hot sex scene in any movie to date. Actually, it's probably the hottest sex scene, realistic or not, in a big-studio movie to date.
Most of the movie is set in Kenya, where the Quayles are living due to Justin's job working with the British government. The scenes of Tessa, very pregnant and dressed in loose flowing clothes, looking Madonna-like while playing with Kenyan children, are absolutely lovely.
When Tessa is murdered for her role in uncovering a British government-approved drug company conspiracy, it spurs her husband into his own sociopolitical action as he sets out to complete her unfinished work. Much of the movie takes place in flashbacks, as Tessa's death takes place very close to the start of the film. However, it manages to not be a contrived reference-to-Momento flashback movie that so many filmmakers are making today.
The Constant Gardener is, above everything else, an incredibly devastating film. Watching Quayle deal with the loss of Tessa, the great love of his life, will bring even the most hardened movie-goer to tears. Fiennes does great justice to the performance through the quiet power that he brings. While another man literally throws up at the viewing of Tessa's mangled body, Quayle takes it in with a silent, devastated dignity.
What really makes The Constant Gardener heartbreaking though, is the portrayal of Western ambivalence towards the situation of the African people that they are supposed to be helping. Tessa and other women working for independent aid organizations are the only people who seem to care deeply for what can only be called crimes against humanity. When Quayle finally taps into this after Tessa's death, we see him truly pay tribute to the wife he loved and the work for which she died.