Starring Leonard DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, David Harewood, and Arnold Vosloo; Directed by Edward Zwick; Written by Charles Leavitt; 143 minutes, Rated R.
The holidays delivered the smorgasbord of would be blockbusters, and I was surprised at how much I liked Blood Diamond and how controversial the critics found it.
Like The Constant Gardner, which I reviewed (OT, 10/10/05 issue), emphasizing the slant of exploitation and the fact that it is not only the Dark Continent that is victimized by the drug industry, this film preaches about the problem of “conflict diamonds,” and as one reviewer commented, “wags its sparkling finger” at you, and the finger that says “I love you” comes with blood dripping from it. De Beers, the diamond merchant, purportedly is furious since the theme of the movie is to trace the bloody trail that the diamond industry causes.
Some find the plot too contorted and the movie's length and sermonizing problematic, and indeed there are some odious cliches and attempts at phrase-making that could have found the editor's floor more comfortable than the silver screen—for example “TIA—this is Africa,” explaining nothing and dismissing pain and suffering as well as an entire continent; or “In America this is just bling-bling; here it is bling-blang”—certainly utter nonsense that will not enter conversation or parlance.
What makes the movie are the characters and the actors who play the parts. The oversimplified story is that of a devoted father waking his sleeping son, prodding him to go to school to become a doctor even though it takes work. Djimon Hounsou plays a noble father, Solomon Vandy, and holds the moral high-ground throughout the picture.
The village is raided; he's delivered to pan for diamonds as others have their arms cut off so they cannot vote (The hematocrit for the movie reaches polycythemic levels, and the gratuitous violence underscores what is meant by TIA).
Subsequently the would-be doctor, younger Vandy, is kidnapped and pressed into service as a child warrior, the other bloody revelation of the post-colonial Africa's dark heart of modern mayhem. Solomon finds a huge, pink diamond in a drain, but barely manages to elude detection. The villainous Captain Poison (David Harewood), who can be counted on to oversee maiming, torture, and most of the overt dastardly deeds, nearly catches him in the act, but an assault on the camp allows Solomon to secrete the diamond away and narrowly escape.
Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) has the good-looks, charm, and nerve to deal with the grimier side of the diamond trade. DiCaprio performs this year in The Departed and this film as a more mature actor than in the past. In both films, he ably transforms the character and animates each by capturing a “Southy” Boston accent in The Departed, and in here, an impressive Afrikaan patois, with proper cadence as well as intonation.
Archer has witnessed his parents' execution and rape, which are used to explain his heartlessness in the Heart of Darkness. His character goes from ruthless con artist, guileless deceiver, and user of others, with no concerns about consequences here or in the hereafter.
Archer and Vandy are linked obsessively in pursuit of their goals. A white man with a dark as coal heart and a black man with pure soul, each equally possessed, like Ahab, chasing their elusive whales—one a pink diamond to set him free of bonds of the continent, the other the pristine white dream to reunify his beloved family and save Africa from itself and its people, as well as the external exploiters.
The more thinly written part of Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) as a freelance journalist serves as the foil to each. She deals with the angst and onerous responsibility of the first world in fueling the carnage in Africa by being the conscientious reporter. The attempts to stir Archer's conscience meet the brick of his heart, but the spark of attraction of each for the other carries credibly.
Solomon's obsession seems noble, and he wildly risks his own life and Archer's to rescue his brainwashed son. Some report Archer's character as evolving, but in truth, it is the forces beyond his power that convert him from a pawn of Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo) the nefarious force that works covertly for the diamond industry, to the accidental aide to Vandy in his possessed mission.
Bowen's reportage is a caricature, and some blame Connelly's acting for a rather impossible part to play in more than one dimension.
The director, Edward Zwick, makes epics that explore warrior's mettle (The Last Samurai, Legends of the Fall, Glory) and pit the forces of good versus evil—classic melodrama with heroes and victims. He used Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in perhaps their not most memorable roles, but Danny Archer will win Leonardo DiCaprio acclaim.
Despite its flaws, its length, and its gore, this film held my attention. Still, there were walkouts in the theater when I attended by people who found either the gore or the subject too distressing.