Now, I like a good lefty romance movie as much as the next gal, but having just re-viewed Reds for the millionth time, I was only reminded of the glaring political inadequacy of The Constant Gardener. After seeing Reds, where the characters' political passions and commitments are stewed in a brilliantly concocted context of the times in which they lived and worked and made out, I must conclude that The Constant Gardener was merely a heavy-handed propaganda piece, albeit a bit more epic-y and glamorous one to endure than, say, that clumsy Michael Moore maladroit, Fahrenheit 9/11.
I actually saw The Constant Gardener twice, not for the message, but rather for some terribly lovely audio edits (although drug company WASP execs do make for delightful villains in the post-cold war milieu). But when it goes up against a genuine lefty romantic epic like Reds, it falls so short of credibility that I wonder now why I liked it at all.
Reds, which has yet to be released on DVD, but is now playing on HBO, reminded me that if one is to develop convictions and a purpose driven political life, one must be actually challenged and defined by more than whatever circumstance happens to be swirling about, politically tempting as it might be. You must be challenged by the social as well as the political. And the historic and the absurd and the emotional... well, you get the picture.
The poorly developed characters, but fine actors who did their utmost best, in The Constant Gardener were given no societal context in which they could be nurtured and watered and ultimately understood and cheered on with. They were merely plopped down as presumably fully-matured adults, in an almost randomly chosen hell, then required to go out and behave, good or otherwise, in a manner befitting an unsubtle director.
The main characters of The Constant Gardener were so poorly defined in the context of contemporary (British) culture and their own unchallenged personal circumstances that I now find them all terribly forgettable, and instead fondly recall only the bad guys on a perfectly staged golf course encounter/scene.
On the other hand, I will never forget the characters of Reds, played to utter perfection by Beatty, Keaton and Nicholson, all in their acting prime. All were given the space and the context in this delightfully long film to become what they needed to be, to ultimately do what they needed to do. Whether that is what you want them to do or not is irrelevant. They were going to do it regardless because that is what they had become - and we were treated, as the audience, to the process.
One example, and then I'll let you go, consider the moral circumstances of Louise Bryant in Reds. Had she never been allowed, cinematically or otherwise, to fall prey and be weakened by the icy seduction of Eugene O'Neill, so swooningly played to nihilistic perfection by Jack Nicholson, she would never have become the morally strengthened woman and wife who was able to move forward in the manner in which she eventually behaved... trying bravely and desperately to give help where help was desperately needed. Not to the Communists, whom she couldn've given a rat's ass about, but to her husband Jack Reed, portrayed in the role of a lifetime, by Warren Beatty hizseff.
Now that was progressive filmmaking. Given the flattened, one-dimensional nature and circumstances of the characters of The Constant Gardener, that was no progressive film at all, merely high-handed pomposity set in a deceptively complex circumstance perfect for artifically manipulating the characters' emotions and politics for them -- and thus ultimately for us, the audience.
Heavy-handed political filmmaking never allows one thing - a chance to stir things up for ourselves.