Blood Diamond (2006) / Action-War
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 143 min.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, David Harewood, Arnold Vosloo, Kagjso Kuvpers, Antony Coleman, Benu Mabhena, Jimi Mistry, Michael Sheen
Director: Edward Zwick
Screenplay: Charles Leavitt
Review published January 23, 2007
Set in the area of Sierra Leone, in Africa in 1999, Blood Diamond depicts the civil war-torn lands that are being ravaged daily by conflicts between government forces and rebel bands, the latter of which have been regularly selling off "blood diamonds" (aka, conflict diamonds) clandestinely in order to fund their continued war efforts. Djimon Hounsou (The Island, Beauty Shop) plays Solomon Vandy, an African fisherman captured by the RUF (Revolutionary United Front), but whose life is spared when he shows he has the physical fortitude to work searching for diamonds in the nearby fields and rivers. Solomon makes a rare find, a large diamond (known in the trade as a "pink") worth a great deal of money, which he hides in the ground, nearly unsuccessfully, but he escapes thanks to a sudden attack from government forces.
Solomon is incarcerated along with the rest of the men by the government troops, and while in prison, a white Rhodesian smuggler named Danny Archer (DiCaprio, The Departed) who sees a grand opportunity to gain the diamond and get out of the God-forsaken continent once and for all. Solomon wants none of it, but Archer makes an offer he can't refuse -- the location of his separated family. However, with raging civil war and opportunistic mercenaries after the pink, getting to the diamond and out of the country in one piece won't be easy.
Blood Diamond is another one of those films that I have strong mixed feelings about, enjoying some aspects highly, while others are too problematic to ignore. As I'm right on the edge as far as a recommendation, this is one of those cases where I feel the need to break up my opinions before delivering my ultimate conclusion.
Although it might seem from the plot description like a somber drama, Blood Diamond plays out far more like a conventional action-thriller, with plenty of scenes of gunfire, bloodshed, explosions, and harrowing brutality. Basically, it exists more for entertainment value in getting its overall message across in a serious fashion, but at least it does so in a gripping and well-developed manner. There is adequate character development in the character of Solomon, enough that we do care for him to succeed in reuniting with his family in the end. Danny Archer's character is more of a grey area, with DiCaprio performing quite well in depicting his internal struggles between amoral opportunism and developing a heart by helping his fellow man. The level of complexity in the characters makes for a more intelligent presentation than just Rambo-style good guys vs. bad guys.
In addition, the cinematography is very impressive, with gorgeous shots of the African landscape, and the location work is also excellent. From a technical standpoint everything feels top-notch.
Blood Diamond never really lives up to its humanistic ideals due to seeming too much like a clichéd escape film, never really presenting itself as an honest, realistic portrayal of life in Sierra Leone. Much of it is highly sensationalized, with contrived story elements that undermine the film's ability to take the high ground -- it feels very exploitative of the blood diamond issue. Although director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire) would like to paint it as a noble movie with a message, and it does get a certain point across as far as the things we purchase without realizing the consequences, he tries to have it both ways by using this backdrop to promote a very routine thriller with big players vying for the loot, not altogether dissimilar to Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
As if this weren't bad enough, the script by Charles Leavitt (K-PAX, The Mighty) introduces a fairly unnecessary romantic subplot between Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, Little Children), a journalist trying to write an expose on the blood diamond scandal, and Archer. While her character does bring some things to light regarding the cynical nature of the news business, where depicting a bloody civil war still doesn't move people around the world to help in any way they can, the flirtatious banter and lingering glances just weren't necessary in a film like this, thrown in (presumably) to increase the audience to include those who won't find any interest in a movie with DiCaprio if he doesn't have a main squeeze.
I think that if you go into Blood Diamond expecting nothing more than a conventional action-adventure with elements of thriller, war and drama, you might be interested enough by the story to ultimately feel the lengthy trip worthwhile. While the film does carry quite a load of baggage in terms of the commercialization within the script to play better to mainstream audiences, it does ultimately get its message across regarding the dangers of the blood diamond trade and the ramifications for millions of affected people that the media never seems to cover with the gravity it should. Watch it for the solid action, interesting commentary on real-world situations, and good performances by Hounsou and DiCaprio. Just be sure to keep all expectations for another powerhouse drama like Hotel Rwanda completely at bay.
©2007 Vince Leo