Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly
Directed by: Edward Zwick
There have been countless films about Africa and the troubles facing the continent. These films have addressed difficult situations in the name of telling a good story but didn’t create an awareness with the viewer that these problems are happening to real people every day. Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond is a film that breaks from the mold because it deals with African conflict in a way that could emotionally impact the Western Hemisphere. It is a great story dealing with the diamond trade and how it has wrecked much of the African continent. However, using something that the West can relate to—in this case diamonds—Zwick has managed to leave an impact with the viewer about the problems Africa is facing long after the credits roll.
During the conflict of the Sierra Leone Civil War, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is captured and forced to work for Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. His family managed to escape and are now living in a refugee camp; except for his son who has been brainwashed into fighting for the RUF as a child soldier. Solomon is forced to mine for diamonds like a slave for the RUF. Solomon manages to find a rather large diamond and tries to hide it from the RUF but the leader, Captain Poison (David Harewood), sees him. However, before anything happens between the two, a government attack pulverizes the area which leads to Solomon and Poison getting arrested.
Poison berates Solomon in prison and threatens him and his family with harm unless he reveals the location of the diamond. Also in jail is diamond smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio). On his release, he also manages to free Solomon using his connections. He makes a deal with Solomon to find the diamond so they can split the profits and Solomon can be reunited with his family. However, finding the diamond isn’t so easy as the war has made Sierra Leone impossible to walk around freely. Archer befriends an American reporter named Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) who helps Archer and Solomon move through the countryside as media personnel covering the conflict for international onlookers. However, there are problems at every turn as the RUF and Archer’s old employers, a South African mercenary group, are both looking for the diamond as well.
The acting is top notch. DiCaprio, Hounsou, and Connelly tell an engaging story just with their actions and emotions. It almost feels like there doesn’t need to be a script because they communicate so well with each on screen that you could tell what they’re saying and how their feeling without even listening to their words.
The most important part of the film is the story; which is incredible. It really puts everything into perspective to see how companies and individuals are so desperate to get their hands on relatively tiny stones. Zwick does a marvelous job showing the intensity of the situation in Sierra Leone. It becomes more than just a movie. It hits hard that this is a real situation that Africans are forced to deal with and that Western governments are pulling the strings. However, Zwick masterfully doesn’t make the film to be an anti-West film. He creates a sense of optimism that we can all help to change things instead of blaming the greedy rich countries for fuelling conflict in Africa.
The film does have its problems. The development of the relationship between Archer and Maddy could have been better written. It doesn’t feel as organic as it should and at times feels like it’s propped up more by a script than anything that could happen in real life. That’s not to say that DiCaprio and Connelly don’t have good chemistry together. Quite the contrary, but the journey towards their strong relationship seems a bit artificial at times. When they flirt, it comes across as something to add spice to the movie rather than it feeling like something that would come naturally in their relationship.
Another small problem is that while Archer, Solomon, Maddy, and most of the other characters in the movie feel unique, Colonel Coetzee feels incredibly generic. He’s very reminiscent of your typical colonizing elitist-bad guy in action movies from the 80s. It just seems kind of weak and that not a lot of thought was put into this character. He might as well be wearing a black hat and punch a kitten in the face to start the movie. Coetzee comes across as one-dimensional and adds nothing to the story. It would have been better if he were more cerebral (or perhaps diabolical) rather than your everyday conventional villain.
Still, the film is very well made. Aside from the excellent story and the superb acting, the film is beautifully shot. Zwick managed to take Africa in its raw beauty and turn it into a golden land. With that in mind, he creates strong emotions within the viewer by taking such a beautiful landscape and turning it into a hell on earth. The final major battle scene between the South Africans and the RUF rebels is filmed exquisitely. It almost becomes easy to forget that the action unfolding on screen isn’t real. Zwick really has a knack for delivering action sequences that feel profoundly real.
Blood Diamond is an incredible film. It’s not perfect and could have used a bit of refinement in the area of character development but it still blows away many films of the same genre. Edward Zwick did a fantastic job capturing the problems plaguing Africa without making the film feel preachy. It’s a heavy film to watch but you’ll be glad you did.
This post was originally published on this site on February 28, 2010. The original review is intact with some minor grammatical changes and film stills were added for this revision.