03 December 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: "Blood Diamond"

December 03, 2006 06:38 PM EST © 2006 by Digital Dogs

As director Ed Zwick (The Last Smaurai, Traffic, Shakespeare In Love, and TV's My So-Called Life & ThirySomething) says about his new film Blood Diamond: “There is no reason why challenging themes and engaging stories have to be mutually exclusive – in fact, each can fuel the other.” He goes on to say, “To me this movie is about what is valuable. To one person, it might be a stone; to someone else, a story in a magazine; to another, it is a child. The juxtaposition of one man obsessed with finding a valuable diamond with another man risking his life to find his son is the beating heart of this film.”

Zwick’s touch is deft and he is the first director who has been able to reach the deeper and more real-life-man inside of DiCaprio. The film runs a bit long, but this is a big story to tell and though Zwick takes his time setting up the plot for us, it’s time well used.

Leonardo DiCaprio is finally a success in his first real grown-up role as an ex-mercenary African smuggler in Blood Diamond after a rare red conflict diamond. Along with co-lead Djimon Hounsou, the two weave a compelling tale about the search for self under the cover of illegal conflict diamond trade and the child armies of the rebels in Sierra Leone. Complete with a dead-on clipped South African accent and a convincing mercenary demeanor DiCaprio has finally grown into his face and his body, though it is Hounsou’s work here that truly deserves attention. Hounsou's co-lead performance here (don't let anyone suggest that his is a supporting role) is Oscar-worthy, though this reviewer would be mighty surprised if he receives the attention his performance deserves.

Set against the chaotic background of the civil war that broke out in the 1990s in Sierra Leone, West Africa, Blood Diamond is the story of two African men, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Honsou), a Mende (descendents of the great Malian Empire founded by Sundiata Keita) fisherman from Sierra Leone. Even though they are both African, their lives couldn’t be more different until their fates become intertwined in a quest to recover a rare stone.

Filmed entirely in South Africa and Mozambique, the scenery is as much as star as the luminaries themselves. Long shots show us verdant vistas with exotic animals that belie the death and destruction going on inside the lush multitude of green. The title, Blood Diamond, refers to a rare huge red-tinted diamond found by forced-labor-miner Vandy. It is a conflict diamond, which are diamonds mined in mostly African war zones by forced labor and are sold to diamond buyers to finance the conflicts, hence the name conflict diamond.

Kidnapped by rebel forces and forced to work as a slave laborer in a diamond mining operation, Vandy finds a rare blood diamond the size of an ice cube and hides it between his toes to escape the evil eyes of his captors. He hides the diamond in a scrap of cloth and buries it deep beneath a toilet pit in the jungle next to a diamond mining river. Of course his secret is too good to keep and almost immediately an evil one-eyed rebel leader, Captain Poison, sees Vandy bury something. When the mining operation comes under attack Vandy takes his opportunity to escape, leaving the blood diamond buried deep within the waste pile. Once free his forced labor Vandy begins a desperate search for his wife and children while the audience meets DiCaprio’s Danny Archer, who is searching for a way out of the cycle of violence and corruption that is his life.

Vandy desperately searches for his wife and children, not knowing that his son, Dia, has already been kidnapped by rebels and forced to become a child soldier and kill on command, and that his wife and daughter are in a refugee camp. There is nothing quite like the sight of little children holding huge AK47’s like lollypops and shooting people dead with no regret, it is a horror that many African children live every day of their lives. Just watching it in a fictional film was painful enough. Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) understands this awful truth and as a reporter is in Sierra Leone to uncover the true story behind conflict diamonds, trying to expose the complicity of diamond industry leaders, here played by one composite character with only one whispered line, Simmons, Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in The Queen), who have chosen profits over principles. With Maddy’s help, Archer and Vandy embark on a dangerous trek through rebel territory to recover the blood diamond they are pinning all their hopes on.

The men are on a journey, one with the intent to leave the continent of his birth, the other with the intent to find his family. But each character ends up struggling with their own moral dilemmas. As the moral center of the film, Solomon Vandy, Djimon Hounsou sums it up: “Archer is pursuing a diamond, but Solomon’s diamond is his son." Archer realizes it too late, but his diamond is Maddy.

Though the cast is A list, the film tackles important social issues that are not often seen in major star vehicles. For that alone Blood Diamond deserves a viewing, as does seeing DiCaprio and Hounsou doing their best work. When you add on the two star turns, a minor role for another A lister, Jennifer Connelly, you have a compelling afternoon of enjoyable popcorn munching ahead.


Digital Dogs rating: A-

MPAA rating: Rated R for strong violence and language.

Running Time: 188 minutes

Producers Kevin De La Noy, Gillian Gorfil, Philip Key, Graham King, Darrell Roodt, Paula Weinstein, Ed Zwick, Director Ed Zwick, Screenplay Charles Leavitt, Story C. Gaby Mitchell, Editor Steven Resenblum, DP Eduardo Serra, Actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Arnold Vosloo, Michael Sheen

© 2006 by Digital Dogs


Learn more about conflict diamonds:


How To Avoid Buying a Conflict Diamond
Partnership Africa-Canada
UN Conflict Diamonds


War Photographer

Shadow Company

Cry Freedom & Return To Freetown


Blood Diamond by Greg Campbel

Blood From Stones by Douglas Farah

Innocents Lost by Jimmie Briggs

Mukiwa, A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin

How De Body? One Man's Terrifying Journey through an African Warby Teun Voeten

In the Land of Magical Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa by Daniel Bergner

The Devil Danced on Water: A Daughter’s Memoir by Aminatta Forna



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