Tonight I went to a PGA screening of Edward Zwick’s new film, Blood Diamond. The film takes place in the late 1990s, during which the West African nation of Sierra Leone was embroiled in the middle of a civil war. The rebels (the RUF) are fighting the government, but the people are being caught in the crossfire. (Isn’t that always the way?) To help fund their revolution, “conflict diamonds” are smuggled out and eventually make their way into the world market. The film starts out when black fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), whose family was torn apart by the RUF when he was captured and made to slave working in the river, looking for diamonds. He finds a huge one (a pink one) and is able to hide it when the RUF is attacked by government forces. While in jail, white South African mercenary (and smuggler) Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) hears about Vandy’s stone, and – as he now owes money to his buyers since he was caught smuggling diamonds – is determined to get it.
What follows is hardly a “buddy picture”. Vandy is desperate to find his family, and Archer is desperate to find the stone. Along the way, journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) comes into the picture, since she’s trying to break a news story about conflict diamonds being used by “respectable” businesses that claim not to use them. You also ha Vandy’s son, who has been caught by the RUF and is trained as a child soldier, and that’s cause for a bit of conflict later on in the film. So you have two men, with diametrically opposed goals, but they come together in an effort to get what they want. Vandy wants to find his family, Archer wants to find the diamond, and Bowen wants to find her story. It’s not a convenient situation, especially with a war brewing, but they try to make the best of it, and there’s a lot of subterfuge along the way, which makes for an interesting story.
The movie was about 30 minutes too long, and there were a few sequences which seemed to be redundant (running through the jungle trying to escape the RUF), but this was a pretty good film. It’s well shot, and the scenery is gorgeous. DiCaprio, who is constantly impressing me as an actor these days, does a very good job as Archer. He’s enough of a bad-ass mercenary that he will (and does) shoot children in the back (well, they were trying to kill him), but is Bowen able to crack his hard shell? Find out! Hounsou is good as usual, and you can genuinely feel his pain of having his family torn apart. Connelly seemed a little miscast – I can’t quite put my finger on why, but she just felt a little too glamorous for the part.
The other problem I had with the film was that it felt like it was a message movie in search of a message! I mean, the problems involving conflict diamond smuggling were addressed (in events taking place after the end of the movie), and while it’s certainly not a non-existent problem, it’s nothing like what it used to be. So we’re told “conflict diamonds – bad!” and “children soldiers – bad!” but, well, we kinda knew that going in. It’s like watching a movie that takes place in the early 1960s during segregation, and then the movie ends before Martin Luther King, Jr. shows up. You’re left feeling guilty, like you did something wrong, and with the impression that the problem wasn’t really solved – but it was, and there’s nothing to do about it right now. So if you see Blood Diamond (which you should – it’s a good film), don’t feel guilty if you decide to drop $75,000 on a rock. (Though you should spend that on me! haha!)
James Newton Howard’s score is good – a nice mixture of western orchestra with African percussion, and two main themes (for the two main characters) that slowly come together towards the end of the film, reflecting the relationship arc in the story. Visual effects are subtle and unnoticeable, and the action sequences are well choreographed. In a nutshell, with the solid story, good acting, and all that stuff, it’s a recommended flick. Just be warned that it’s a little longer than it should be – but otherwise, it’s a fascinating adventure that’s worth seeing.