Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director’s commentary; Blood on the Stone documentary; Becoming Archer featurette; Journalism on the Front Line featurette; Inside the siege of Freetown featurette; Nas ‘Shine on ‘Em’ music video; Theatrical Trailer.
THE little-known truth behind the issues of conflict diamonds and child soldiers lie at the heart of Edward Zwick’s ambitious blockbuster – but while Blood Diamond undoubtedly entertains on a grand scale, it fails to leave the impact it deserves.
Set against the civil war that enveloped Sierra Leone in the 1990s, the film follows the fortunes of two men – Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a Mende fisherman – who are forced to unite in a common quest to recover a rare pink diamond.
Solomon initially found the gem after being taken from his family and forced to work in the diamond fields but hid it at great risk, believing it could provide the means to save his wife and daughters from a life as refugees and to prevent his son, Dia, from becoming a child soldier. But he’s forced to trust and rely on Danny’s expertise as a soldier of fortune, knowing full well that the mercenary views the gem as his ticket out of Africa.
Their story is followed by a keen American reporter (Jennifer Connelly) who is intent on exposing the truth behind Africa’s bloody diamond trade and who forces Danny to examine his conscience.
For all of its noble intentions, Blood Diamond suffers from the same conflict of interests as many of its central characters. It successfully exposes some very important issues but doesn’t have the courage of its convictions to always see them through.
Zwick, whose previous credits include Glory, The Siege and The Last Samurai, maintains that political awareness can be raised as much by entertainment as by rhetoric and sets about proving this theory to compelling effect during the first half of the movie. The statistics he provides on the number of child armies in Africa, as well as their brutal training, are genuinely shocking, while there are plenty of eye-opening insights into the diamond trade itself – conflict diamonds are stones that have been smuggled out of countries at war which are then used to pay for more arms, thereby increasing the death tolls in the regions affected.
But his decision to focus the majority of the film’s attention on DiCaprio’s former mercenary is a curious choice and one that ultimately serves to reduce the power of its impact. A little more time in the company of Hounsou’s fisherman may have maintained the gritty focus and made it feel less of a blockbuster, particularly in light of the decision to try and develop a love story between Leo and Jennifer Connelly.
It’s the suffering endured by Hounsou’s people that Zwick is proudest to expose, yet the actor is forced to play distinctly second fiddle for much of the time. The final third of the movie resorts to standard Hollywood practices and even enters Rambo-style territory as DiCaprio’s lone shooter leads Solomon on a daring rescue mission and subsequent race to escape. But what begins as a hard-hitting film becomes totally unbelievable and a clear indication that Zwick put box office concerns first.
Taken on such terms, Blood Diamond is still worth catching for several reasons. It looks spectacular and provides the spectacle and excitment required to keep viewers’ enthralled. And it boasts another excellent leading performance from DiCaprio, who has been Oscar nominated as a result.
DiCaprio’s anti-hero comes complete with a convincing South African accent and is a genuinely compelling character to be around. His progression from cold-hearted arms dealer to sensitive hero is convincingly portrayed and he also cuts it in the physical department as an unlikely action hero. Hounsou, too, is typically solid as the passionate father whose heartbreak and turmoil is passionately conveyed.
But the movie loses its way during the sub-plot involving Connelly’s reporter, who feels a little too stereotypical for her own good.
How much audiences will ultimately take away from Blood Diamond depends on how prepared they are to delve a little deeper once the credits have rolled. But the film does at least raise some relevant questions and is worth seeing even if it’s ultimately not as important as it thinks it is.
Running time: 2hrs 20mins