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Blood Diamond

This is Hollywood, Not the United Nations

In just the past year, four English-language films have been released centered on the troubled African continent, The Constant Gardener, Lord of War, Catch a Fire, and now, Blood Diamond. Directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire, Glory), Blood Diamond tackles several, seemingly irresolvable problems common to modern-day Africa: conflict diamonds, civil war, violence, refugees, and child soldiers. Of course, Blood Diamond isn’t a straight-up “social message” drama, but an action/thriller. As such, the film is heavy on the action clichés and light on the historical context necessary to understand Africa’s problems and the solutions necessary to solve them.

Set in Sierra Leone in 1999 as a civil war threatens to destroy the country, Blood Diamond focuses on Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mercenary and smuggler, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman who becomes separated from his family after an attack on his village by rebels. Captured by the rebels, Solomon is forced to work in the diamond mines. The rebels use the diamonds to finance arms purchases, from guns and ammo to grenades and rocket launchers. In order to circumvent international laws and agreements, the rebels and the government resort to smuggling the diamonds into nearby Liberia, where they’re sold and exported to Europe. Government troops raid the mining camp and arrest Solomon as a suspected rebel.

After running afoul of border guards on a smuggling run, Archer is thrown in prison. There, he overhears another man accuse Solomon of hiding a rare, highly valued pink diamond. Desperate to repay his debt to his former mentor, the Colonel (Arnold Vosloo) and leave Africa for a more hospitable climate, Archer pays Solomon’s bail and suggests a partnership to recover and smuggle out the diamond. Solomon, however, just wants his family back. Archer eventually promises to help Solomon find his family and enlists the aid of Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), a journalist, to help them on their journey through rebel-held territory.

Archer, Solomon, and Maddy begin the search for Solomon’s family. Unfortunately, the same rebels who captured Solomon have captured Solomon’s son, Dia (Caruso Kuypers). The men turn Dia into a child soldier, indoctrinating him in the aims and goals of the rebellion while teaching him how to use a gun and kill other men. Solomon and Dia’s stories eventually converge at the mining camp, forcing Archer to make a choice between keeping the diamond, selling it to a London cartel or saving Solomon and Dia.

Story wise, thanks to screenwriter Charles Leavitt (K-Pax, The Mighty) and Edward Zwick, Blood Diamond delivers tautly paced entertainment, with the heavier exposition handled deftly through bits of dialogue (instead of extended dialogue scenes). The action sequences handled cleanly as Archer and Solomon make their way through multiple war zones, with civilians often caught in the middle between the military and the rebels. The action set pieces are no less disturbing or visceral for being cleanly filmed, which, in turn, gives the movie an immediacy usually lacking in mainstream Hollywood films. Unfortunately, Blood Diamond falters where so many other recent films have faltered before, in the formulaic endings that fall short of what the characters, and by extension, the film deserves.

Without giving too much away, Blood Diamond would have been a better, more emotionally satisfying film without the second feel-good ending (yes, the movie has two endings, one for each major character, Archer and Solomon). As befitting a character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Archer’s storyline takes a while to unfold, as Archer’s crisis of conscience pulls him in opposite directions until the last possible moment. Solomon’s storyline ends on a more upbeat, feel-good note. Then too there’s the romantic storyline involving Archer and Maddy. Besides being less than credible, it’s perfunctory at best and exposition-clumsy at worst.

Not surprisingly, Blood Diamond is Leonardo DiCaprio’s film from practically the first scene through the last. As the protagonist, DiCaprio’s character changes the most, from a self-centered, egotistical anti-hero to selfless, self-sacrificing hero. As predictably redemptive as Archer’s arc may be, it gives DiCaprio the opportunity to show a dynamic acting range, which he does convincingly (less so for the on-again, off-again South African accent, though). As the second lead, Djimon Hounsou has a shorter emotional arc, but he’s nonetheless impressive, especially in the later scenes after he discovers the fate of his family. Jennifer Connelly, however, seems lost, but that’s less due to her performance than to an underwritten, superfluous, role.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars