Blood Diamond

December, 2006, Drama

Directed by:Edward Zwick

Starring:Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, and Arnold Vosloo

Blood Diamond

Poor Ed Zwick. The man can’t seem to help himself; here he is behind the camera again, directing Leonardo DiCaprio and a shrewdly chosen cast in a thriller about diamond smuggling in Africa…and he hasn’t curbed the tendency, (evident in movies like Glory, Courage Under Fire & The Last Samurai) to lace this action-filled plot with portentous observations about the issues his story involves. If the Hindus are right and we’re destined to keep coming back until we get it right, Zwick faces at least one future life as a preacher.

The horrors of civil war, child soldiers, white mercenaries, and the international complicity in trafficking smuggled diamonds to finance brutal conflicts amidst the desperate poverty in which so many Africans live are vividly displayed here, the better to buttress Zwick’s examination of the three principals in Charles Leavitt’s story and screenplay. Danny Archer, a cynical Rhodesian-born soldier of fortune facilitates the flow of diamonds from Sierra Leone during that country’s appalling civil war in the early 1990’s. When he learns that Solomon Vandy, (Djimon Hounsou) a fellow prison inmate, has found and hidden a fabulously large pink diamond, Archer uses his contacts in the shadowy world of arms trafficking to arrange for their release so the two of them can dig up the gem and finance Archer’s departure from a lifestyle that’s growing increasingly dangerous to his health. 

Vandy’s objective is brutally simple; he wants to locate his wife and their three children, from whom he was separated when the rebels destroyed his village and forced him to work in their diamond mine deep inside territory the rebels occupy. Archer’s forced to enlist the help of American journalist Maddy Bowen, (Jennifer Connelly) to arrange transportation to the refugee camp where Solomon is reunited with his wife and two daughters only to learn from them that his son has been forced to join the rebels as a child soldier. Solomon wants to find him; Archer just wants to get his hands on the diamond, while Maddy wants sufficient verifiable information to write an expose on First World complicity in this seemingly unending bloodshed. The three of them get to the base camp of Archer’s sometime colleagues, white mercenaries the government has hired to fight on its behalf. As a valued comrade in arms, Archer convinces the mercenaries’ commander to help him raid the rebel’s diamond camp. In the aftermath of an exceptionally lopsided battle, Archer and Solomon find the latter’s son, dig up the diamond and attempt to flee to a prearranged rendezvous with a bush pilot who’s previously agreed to fly Archer - - and only him - - out of the country.

Sandwiched in between the principal points of Archer’s gem-obsessed odyssey are grim depictions of the battle for Freetown, Sierra Leone’s rank capital city, assorted casual butcheries of peaceful villagers by rebel forces, the bloody indoctrination and training of child soldiers along with random killings of combatants and civilians alike, delivered with the director’s hectoring message about how appalling it all is. His camera conveys none of the vibrancy of the African culture in which his story takes place; it concentrates only on the barbarism which flows from exploitation served up by blacks and whites alike, amidst a combination of power politics and relief agency irrelevance.

Each frame of Zwick’s two & ¼ hour slaughter-fest is filled with either violence or sermonizing, yet vigorous performances by all three of the leads manages to breathe some life into characters obviously designed as spokespersons for the director’s worldview rather than real flesh and blood individuals. Everything about Diamonds has a contrived quality, from Solomon’s early scenes as a simple fisherman interested only making a better life for his family, to Archer and Maddy’s final satellite phone call, designed to demonstrate his transition from self-centered nihilist to self-sacrificing humanitarian.  

Blood Diamond is the second film this winter which supposedly examines societal disintegration; it joins Apocalypto in sharing a Hobbes-ian view that bestial appetites lie quite close to mankind’s fundamental modus operandi. But their near-obsessive depictions of that tendency titillate rather than illuminate; despite performances that demonstrate once again DiCaprio’s growing skills, Ms. Connelly’s attractive intelligence and Hounsou’s capacity for conveying complex emotions with his richly expressive face, the movie emerges as just another example of Zwick’s penchant for mixing viscerally effective destruction with heavy-handed sermonizing. 

The verdict? If a combination of spaghetti western-style mayhem and political correctness appeals to you, don’t miss it; otherwise its well-intentioned but heavy handed posturing makes it a poor choice.   


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