Review: Blood Diamond

Recently there's been a rash of motion pictures that try to, in some minute way, change the world. In theory, this is wonderful news; cinema has returned to the socially conscious realm of the 1960s and 70s. "Blood Diamond" (IMDb listing) is the latest political hot potato to leap into theaters, and like many of the recent attempts at polemic cinema, it's not the message that fails, but how forceful the filmmakers serve that message up.

Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) is a peaceful African fisherman father looking to keep his family from the dangers of civil war. When vicious rebels kidnap him and strip his family away, Solomon is sent to the hard labor of the diamond fields. There he finds a perfect gem, and hides it in the dirt for safe keeping. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a smuggler from Zimbabwe who hears about Solomon's unique discovery in jail. With promises to help find Solomon's family, Danny convinces the determined man to lead him to the stone, dragging in an American journalist, Maddy (Jennifer Connelly), to help grease the wheels.

It's difficult to spot exactly what kind of story "Blood Diamond" wants to tell. First and foremost the picture seems to be a muckraking indictment of the diamond industry. The picture emphasizes the death, destruction, and exploitation that has occurred in Sierra Leone since the rise of the diamond; driven entirely by jewelry corporations and unabashed greed. Writer Charles Leavitt juxtaposes the cool efficiency of the diamond merchants with the brutal conditions in Africa, which is sure to make some out there rethink their need for a wedding day finger rock.

While taking on this billion-dollar business of jewels, "Blood Diamond" could be subtle and horrifying, or it could hand-hold and preach. The picture elects the latter approach, pushing its agenda down the throats of the audience to a point where, like Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation," the characters stop just short of speaking directly to the camera and scolding the audience. It doesn't matter what significant questions "Diamond" manages to raise, this type of soapbox attitude deflates the intended effect quickly.

Director Edward Zwick tries to keep the film from sinking into a lecture with forceful, abrupt moments of violence. The depiction of African civil war and the training of child soldiers are vivid sequences of chaos and hopelessness, setting an incredibly turbulent tone for the movie. Zwick keeps the violence alert throughout the film, barging in on Danny's lust for the diamond from all sides, and keeping Solomon in a state of internal panic as he fears the worst about his missing family. These worries are realized to excellence in DiCaprio and Hounsou's intensely sweaty, enraged performances.

A bit longish at 140 minutes, "Diamond" putters to a conclusion, making one mistake after another itemizing Danny's emotional salvation. It was already a blunder to insinuate a romantic relationship between Danny and Maddy (it serves no purpose other than to put two beautiful actors together), but the final moments of "Blood Diamond" tend to push Danny toward an unreasonable level of sainthood. It doesn't suit the character or the movie, and it takes the focus off the booming nightmare of diamond production in Africa to give DiCaprio his Oscar-fishing moment.

Of course, there were a million other ways Zwick and the production could've played the last act to more satisfactory results, but they went the obvious route. Trouble is, the whole film follows this lead as well.

Filmfodder Grade: C+

I couldn't disagree more. Other than occasional comments by DiCaprio & Connelly about Americans who buy wedding rings, there is little throat-shoving. Actions speak louder than their dialogue and the audience can draw its own conclusions on the depravity and depravation that those refugees experience. Realizing American audiences love little happy messages, where indie films and low-budget films can "sort of" preach a message about how we should not buy fast food, or switch to soy milk, this film chooses a dramatic approach. And why not? It's done well. DiCaprio is extremely believable, as is Djimon Hounsu. If the film makers wanted to give DiCaprio that Oscar finishing moment, surely they would have ended it at that. But instead, they chose to pursue the success of Djimon Hounsu in his quest and realization for hope. Not at all what audiences probably expected.

-- Posted by: Olivia at January 17, 2007 1:52 PM