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Blood Diamond - Preview & US reaction

Blood Diamond

Preview by Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD continues to explore some very relevant political issues on the African continent with Blood Diamond, a new Oscar-tipped thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou.

Directed by Edward Zwick, and set against the backdrop of the chaos and civil war that enveloped 1990s Sierra Leone , the film follows the fortunes of Danny Archer (DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, and Solomon Vandy (Hounsou), a Mende fisherman.

Both men are African, but their histories and their circumstances are as different as any can be until their fates become joined in a common quest to recover a rare pink diamond, the kind of stone that can transform a life… or end it.

Explaining the central concept behind the story, Zwick comments: “Conflict diamonds are stones that have been smuggled out of countries at war.

“They then go to pay for more arms, increasing the death toll and furthering the destruction of the region.

“They may be a small percentage of the world’s sales but, nonetheless, in an industry worth billions of dollars even a small percentage is worth many millions and can buy innumerable small arms.

“In the late 1990s, people from such NGOs as Global Witness, Partnership Africa-Canada and Amnesty International gave them a name in order to help bring the crisis into the public consciousness: They called them ‘blood diamonds’.”

Zwick’s film is essentially an action-thriller but it tackles very relevant themes and is intended to raise awareness of an ongoing problem, while providing entertainment on the biggest scale.

He adds: “It has been my belief that political awareness can be raised as much by entertainment as by rhetoric. There is no reason why challenging themes and engaging stories have to be mutually exclusive – in fact, each can fuel the other.”

The film has already earned DiCaprio a Golden Globe nomination for best actor and is tipped to do the same at the forthcoming Academy Award nominations.

Critics in America were divided over its merits, however.

The New York Times, for instance, wrote that: “The makers this exceptionally foolish thriller starring a most excellent Leonardo DiCaprio, want you to know there may be blood on your hands, specifically your wedding finger.”

While Newsweek wrote: “It all pays off in the second half, as the characters are fleshed out in ways that didn’t at first seem possible. The actors go beyond playing types and enter the world of three-dimensional people.”

The Washington Post stated that “for its flaws, Blood Diamond is a gem, if only for being an unusually smart, engaged popcorn flick”.

And Globe And Mail opined: “What you will remember from the film though, is the performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, in his most impressive work since he was a teenaged wunderkind.*

But Hollywood Reporter noted that “despite shining contributions, this composite of action-adventure and social message doesn’t quite crystallize”.

And Variety concludes: “Africa’s enduring sorrow is ripe for drama, but Blood Diamond is, finally, a fitting metaphor for the gems: Potentially brilliant from a distance, but upon closer inspection, one likely will see the flaws.”

Blood Diamond opens in UK cinemas on January 26, 2007.