Director : Edward Zwick
Screenplay : Charles Leavitt (story by Charles Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Leonardo DiCaprio (Danny Archer), Djimon Hounsou (Solomon Vandy), Jennifer Connelly (Maddy Bowen), Kagiso Kuypers (Dia Vandy), Arnold Vosloo (Colonel Coetzee), Antony Coleman (Cordell Brown), Benu Mabhena (Jassie Vandy), Anointing Lukola (N'Yanda Vandy), David Harewood (Captain Poison), Basil Wallace (Benjamin Kapanay), Jimi Mistry (Nabil), Michael Sheen (Simmons)
Liberal guilt movies are always a hard trick to pull off, especially when they mix didactic soapbox standing and action-adventure explosiveness with the randy zeal of Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond. There is an undeniable nobility to the film's desire to shed light on the little-reported issue of conflict diamonds making their way into legitimate markets, but its social lesson is dressed up in such ham-handed melodrama and pyrotechnic-laden action that it's hard not to feel it as a bit disingenuous. There is always the argument that the only way to get U.S. audiences to swallow the bitter pill of edification is to wrap it in Hollywood hooey, but what happens when the candy coating obfuscates the lesson?
Set in Sierra Leone in 1999 at the height of that country's ravaging 11-year civil war, Blood Diamond attempts to balance its gritty and often disturbing re-enactment of bloody African turmoil with a fictional adventure story involving one man trying to reunite with his family and another having his moral compass realigned. The former is Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), an African fisherman whose village is raided by rebel forces. Separated from his family, he is forced to mine diamonds for the rebels, which are then sold to buy arms. When he comes across a rare, 100-karat pink diamond, he hides it away, hoping to someday use it to reunite with his wife and children.
The diamond doesn't stay a secret for long though, and soon Solomon finds himself uneasily partnered with Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an amoral white opportunist who has made his living in the illegal diamond trade. Danny is in a jam himself, having recently lost a large shipment of diamonds, and Solomon's pink stone could be his ticket out of trouble.
Danny is also being dogged by Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an enlightened American journalist who acts as the film's conscience by routinely delivering prefabricated speeches about the nature of conflict diamonds and the West's blind-eye involvement with them. It is testament to Connelly's performance that she delivers these speeches in a nearly believable manner, especially the one in which she ruminates on whether all those American bridezillas would want their cherished engagement stones if they knew they had literally cost someone his hand. DiCaprio also holds well in his anti-heroic role, despite a sometimes faltering accent and a final speech atop a mountain that is the very definition of forced closure.
Slogging out over nearly two and a half hours, the screenplay by Charles Leavitt charts a course through the darkest heart of violent conflict, pausing from the main narrative strand from time to time to drop in on various international summits (largely for informational purposes) and to show us how Solomon's young son (Kagiso Kuypers) is being tragically brainwashed by rebels into an AK-47-toting killer. There is genuine power in many of the scenes involving Solomon's son, especially in the way they humanize the nearly unwatchable violence of the film's opening setpiece in which rebels, many of whom are just kids, indiscriminately gun down an entire village of men, women, and children. The only point is to instill fear through violence; there is no military objective or strategic reasoning other than maintaining power through terror.
Yet, the effectiveness of this brutal opening sequence calls into question the film's later action spectacle, the vast majority of which exists for no other reason than to supply explosions and suspense. We see Danny and Solomon fleeing through city streets torn apart by gunfire, we see them speeding away from a convoy of rebels hellbent on blowing them away, and we later see them dodging through the fireballs of a military airstrike on a rebel mining operation. All of this is presented with such Hollywoodized sound and fury that it loses all claims to verisimilitude and credibility and launches the film directly into the arena of spectacle for spectacle's sake. There is nothing inherently wrong with such a move, but it does tend to make you feel used when the same movie is so shameless in needling both your guilt and your adrenaline.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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