Blood Diamond

One of the more surprising transformations in recent cinema history is that of Leonardo DiCaprio.  His career started on his good looks, and although there were filmmakers who claimed that he was a great actor, DiCaprio never proved this to the world until his recent turns in Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and now Blood Diamond.  All are different, layered roles that show that he is more than a handsome face.  In Blood Diamond, DiCaprio is much more of an ambiguous character.  Danny Archer is a diamond smuggler who works secretly with the De Beers, er, Van de Kaap diamond cartel to move conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone to neighboring countries, where they then move onto the world market, with consumers little aware of their origins.

Blood Diamond wants to be both a big Hollywood film and a social film, and in trying to have it both ways, the latter suffers.  The movie does shine a spotlight on African problems, some of which still exist today.  The movie takes place in the 1990s, when war was raging in Sierra Leone.  A "conflict" or "blood" diamond was one mined in a warring country, and sold in order to further finance the war.  Worse, many rebel armies in Africa did and still recruit boys sometimes as young as eight or nine, brainwashing them and giving them guns in order to kill.  When director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, The Siege) shows this, he is most effective.  When he has his characters talk about it, it feels like he is preaching to the audience.  This seems to be the main purpose of American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, Little Children, Dark Water).  Bowen is in Africa investigating blood diamonds, and every once in a while jumps into a rant about something.  It doesn't fit well with the overall flow of the film, and comes off as a stretch, rather than an organic part of the film.  For Connelly, it relegates a strong actor to a weak role.

The movie works much better as an action film.  Archer is looking for a large pink diamond discovered by Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou, The Island, Beauty Shop).  Vandy reluctantly agrees to help Archer, as long as Archer helps to reunite Vandy's family, which was separated by violent rebels.  The problem is that the rebels are also after the diamond, and war rages around everybody.  Zwick and screenwriters Charles Leavitt (K-PAX, The Mighty) and C. Gaby Mitchell provide numerous opportunities for action sequences anchored by strong performances from DiCaprio and Hounsou.  The two are making their way across a dangerous country, each for his own reasons.  Hounsou will stop at nothing to rescue his family, in particular his son, who has been brainwashed into a fighting machine.

Like DiCaprio, Hounsou gives a very strong, emotional performance.  While DiCaprio may be the public face of Blood Diamond, the heart of the movie likes with Hounsou.  He is the one that the audience roots for, and his character is the one that Archer is simply using to get to the pink diamond.  Vandy is willing to walk through a war to save his son, and this deep emotional connect slowly breaks through to Archer, who is in it for purely monetary reasons.  He is a realist - one who uses whatever is available to his advantage.  This means that he is both bad and good, depending on what will suit him best.  DiCaprio slips easily into this mode - a man who can become casually violent when the situation calls for it. His actions horrify Vandy, who is a simple family man.  The only part of DiCaprio's character that does not work is the love story between Archer and Bowen.  In fact, take the Bowen character completely, and Blood Diamond may be a stronger film.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 18 minutes, Rated R for strong violence and language .

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