School-phobic kids are frantically clinging to these final days of summer, but by this time of year most adult moviegoers are ready for fall and the meaty, cerebral Oscar bait that the new season brings. This year grown-ups are in luck: The thinking cap went on early, thanks to this glorious drama based on John le Carré's 2000 novel about a reserved British diplomat (Fiennes) living in Kenya who learns that his activist wife (Weisz) has been brutally murdered. He begins to piece together her mysterious death while flashing back to how their relationship first flourished. Soon he stumbles upon a massive conspiracy involving "Big Pharma" (pharmaceutical companies testing drugs on African villagers) and his own British High Commission.
Always artfully understated, Fiennes is a master of restraint here, allowing quiet devastation to slowly ripple across his face as he learns of his wife's death. He and Weisz have an easy, tender rapport. Following up his exhilarating 2003 debut City of God, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles again paints a vivid, breathing portrait of a fascinating foreign land, discovering new ways of distilling chaos and despair. It's the perfect antidote to three months of mostly brainless summer fare. (R)