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Movie Review: Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond
Directed by Edward Zwick
Written by Charles Leavitt based on a story by Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell
Warner Bros.

I’m usually way down on issue movies for the simple fact they are mostly all message and not much plot.  They often contain powerhouse performances, which is obviously a plus, but as I’ve always preached in my approach to watching movies, a great performance doesn’t make a great movie (i.e., The Queen).  It has to have everything.

Blood Diamond has an advantage over most of the issue movies out there because it is bases a good plot in the middle of a real crisis, that being the conflict diamonds mined out of West Africa’s Sierra Leone that fund guerilla wars in the area.  So yes, the movie takes on a great deal of common message-movie conventions like The Disgusting Violence on Innocent People Scene, or Dialogue to Make Americans Feel Like Total Bastards.

What great director Edward Zwick (Glory, Courage Under Fire) does, however, is to make the violence in the movie a lingering, constant threat that isn’t used just for messages, it’s a real obstacle most of the time.  In this, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou in another dynamic performance) is taken from his family during a guerilla raid and is sent to sift for diamonds.  During this slavery, he happens on a brilliant pink diamond, hiding it with the threat of execution if discovered.

The government comes in and engages the guerilla mine operation and everyone captured is sent to jail, the diamond safely hidden in the ground.  Also inside the jail is diamond smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio, in a tremendous one-two punch with this and The Departed), who has been caught trying to cross the border with diamonds for a jewel company named Van De Kamp, represented by Simmons (The Queen’s Michael Sheen).  He hears about Vandy’s diamond through one of the captured guerilla fighters, who discovered Vandy’s secret just before the government invasion.  Archer’s motivation is to find this diamond.

Vandy’s family comes up missing on the refugee camp rosters, and his young son has been captured and brainwashed into fighting for the militia, so Archer promises to help find his family if Vandy also leads him to the diamond.  Enter reporter Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), who serves as Archer and the film’s conscience, challenging Archer (and the viewer) to consider the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of human beings.  She also struggles with the same issue, making a career out of human conflict.

Further complicating matters is Archer’s former mercenary leader, simply known as The Colonel (Arnold Vosloo), who claims Archer owes a debt to him and thus completes Archer’s motivations for outright stealing the diamond from Vandy.  And so one of the big questions becomes, will Archer become a decent human being by the end of the picture, doing the right thing?

First off, Hounsou is amazing.  Second off, DiCaprio, who I still was having a hard time completely buying his rough exterior in The Departed, completely pulls it off here, and it’s the better performance.  Thirdly, a character like Maddy Bowen could have been really annoying, written as the film’s white-as-snow human advocate, but it comes refreshingly short of that holier-than-thou representation in the hands of actress Jennifer Connelly, screenwriter Leavitt, and director Zwick. 

Connelly, who may be one of the most gorgeous women in the world, has turned into a go-to actress and her performance is sensitive and conflicted.  I love her line to Archer, saying something like, “With all these people dying, why should I save one man?”  A beat.  “I can’t believe I just said that.”

Ultimately, Blood Diamond is a throwback to old-school adventure filmmaking, recalling another Warner Bros. classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in scale.  It’s this atmosphere that Edward Zwick creates that makes the movie a completely immersive experience, one that wisely uses its political strife as a backdrop rather than a full-on liberal assault (although the images of children firing machine guns cannot be forgotten).  Zwick seems to realize that we go to movies for entertainment, and messages should be exactly that: messages.  If we happen to learn something while being entertained, as opposed to hoping to be entertained by learning something, then I think the message has a better chance of sticking and not feeling like a judgment.  This is one of the best movies of the year.


Comment from KW
Time: December 8, 2006, 3:41 pm

I really want to see this one…partly because it looks like a great movie, and partly because it so closely parallels my own life as a miner of conflict diamonds and mercenary.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: December 8, 2006, 4:56 pm

It’s interesting, KW…there was some sort of strange “thanks” to KW at the very end, right after Martin Scorsese and just before Abe Vigoda. I don’t know if it was you…but I like to dream.

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