The Constant Gardener is the kind of brainy thriller that one expects from an adaption of John Le Carré, noted British spy novelist and ennui expert. This might just be the best of all the Le Carré films I've seen: like all of them it evinces a frustration at the Proper British Way, but here the stakes are immediate and real: after a year in which every film has been scoured for political content, this is the real deal, an attack on Big Pharma, and the West's blind eye towards Third World suffering, in the name of profit.

It's about a timid British diplomat named Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), who uncovers a plot to rush a dangerous drug onto the market while investigating the mysterious death of his new wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz). Why he would go to such extremes is a bit confusing; he met her only days before leaving for Africa, marrying her in a hurry. At the time of her death, he suspected her of cheating on him. Yet he travels the world to prove her right - and no mistake, he's not after the truth because he's an idealogue, he's just trying to prove his love to her.

Standing against him are the forces of government and imperialism in the shape of Bill Nighy and Danny Huston, both perfectly cast in small roles. They both reminded me of the saying about "the banal face of evil": there's a sort of tepid Englishness to the characters, a sense that world domination may be fun, but it's not as important as a good lunch at the club.

Unlike many films of this type, though, The Constant Gardener doesn't focus on the Brits. Instead, it is primarily concerned with their victims: villages full of poor Africans eking out miserable lives, seemingly unsavable. As we come to understand their plight, so too does Justin; and Ralph Fiennes gives the performance of his career in showing that growth. He's an inspired chocie: there's a certain blandness to his acting and appearance that well serve his performance as the film's Everyman; and when he begins to see the evil things that his system has perpetrated, it's like watching a child entering adulthood before your eyes.

Special word must be given to the director, Fernando Meirelles, and his cinematographer, César Charlone. The visual style of this film is incredibly stylized, and perfect. Nearly every shot is handheld; the blend of oversaturation and washed-out greyness, and the unending brownness, make for a film whose visual style is almost incoherent, yet constantly appropriate; and the compositions are invaribly counterintuitive. The instantaneous effect is to distract and distance the viewer; like The Third Man, the visuals create an overwhelming sense of the world gone mad, the world falling down around the hero just as he's beginning to understand the way it works.