2006, R, 143 min. Directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Arnold Vosloo, Antony Coleman, David Harewood.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 8, 2006
As a means to drive home its chief argument – that the 14-carat rock on your fiancée's ring finger might be little more than a blood-drenched byproduct of an African civil war – the stringent verisimilitude of Blood Diamond includes endless sequences of slaughter, bloodthirsty child soldiers, and politically motivated dismemberment, which is rough, gory stuff.
That it's taken hip-hop star Kanye West's Grammy-winning track "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" to fully coalesce the issue in the mind of the public is a thoroughly depressing commentary on our bling-addled culture, but at least the facts are readily available. You can view Zwick's action-packed take on the issue as a social critique masquerading as cineplex fodder, but in this case the Hollywood tropes of the storyline very nearly overwhelm the subject matter. (As far as African-crisis movies go, Terry George's Hotel Rwanda is still the benchmark.) DiCaprio is Danny Archer, a former mercenary who now operates a lucrative diamond-smuggling trade in war-torn Sierra Leone. When he hears of the discovery of a rock the size of a baby's fist by enslaved diamond-digger Solomon Vandy (Hounsou), he schemes to locate this ultimate payday. Then, after a crisis of conscience that arrives in the form of Connelly's crusading Yank journalist, he aids Vandy in retrieving not only the carbonized prize but the man's displaced family. Vandy's teenage son has been captured, drugged, and brainwashed by the vicious Revolutionary United Front rebel faction, which makes Archer's job more difficult but later provides the crux of his ricocheting character arc.
Blood Diamond is by turns moving, horrific, and bombastic; rarely if ever do the characters speak in nonexpositional sentences, and even this trio of intensely talented actors occasionally finds themselves battered by the ceaseless barrage of atrocity. Blood Diamond works best when it puts its social message on the back burner and cuts to the interlinking machinations of sidebar characters like the colonel, Archer's merc protégé (the always-excellent South African actor Vosloo) and RUF maniac Captain Poison (Harewood). While the film never quite reaches the emotional peaks it so obviously seeks to scale, Zwick's film is still potent enough to save you three months' salary.