If I had to summarize the Constant Gardener, I'd say it is a love story about a man who cannot show his love, about a politician willfully naive to the world of politics, and about how terrible loss can lead to clarity and purpose.
Ralph Finnes plays Justin Quayle, a mid-level British diplomat who is good enough at his job, especially the part where he ignores the ugly side of world affairs in favor of tending his beautiful garden. Rachel Weisz plays Tessa, the woman he meets and falls in love with, who also happens to be a human rights activist. At home their life is tender and simple, but when Justin is reassigned to a post in impoverished Africa, they are unable to reconcile their very different views of Western influence on the African people. Justin reacts to their dissonance by retreating into his garden, and Tessa by lashing out against public figures.
Then something awful happens.
I don't want to talk anymore about the plot of the Constant Gardener, except to say that everything that happens is exactly what you expect, and nothing like you expect. Somehow, the movie manages to take us to familiar (and always painful) political territory, but show it through very different eyes. The story unfolds slowly, almost maddeningly, and the audience realizes what is going on seemingly eons before Justin does, so we are forced to really watch him come to terms with what we assume everyone, especially someone who is actually a part of the political machine, takes for granted about the exploitation of the world's poor.
Acting is, as expected from this experienced, talented cast (in roles small and large), really fantastic, and the writing is hauntingly beautiful. Fiennes, especially, who I normally find cold and distant, is phenomenal as a man who must learn what it means to really love someone, and must learn it the hard way, and who seems to be seeing for the first time the hardship experienced by those who are not furtunate enough to be born in the wealthy parts of the world.
I really, truly loved this film. Nothing in it is shocking, except of course the way it is told, and the unfamiliar hero through which the story moves, but all of it feels like a revelation.