Leonardo DiCaprio already wowed audiences once with The Departed, but can he do it a second time within the span of three months? From Edward Zwick, the director of The Last Samurai, Legends of the Fall and Glory, comes Blood Diamond, an in-your-face look at the mining of so-called conflict diamonds in Africa.
DiCaprio stars as diamond smuggler Danny Archer, who knows the land and the people but sees everything as merely a way to make money. In Sierra Leone, he runs diamonds across the border to Liberia where they can be exported without being labeled as "conflict diamonds," a.k.a. diamonds that were mined as a result of infighting and slavery. Cut to Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a local fisherman who finds his life turned upside down when rebels attack his village, kill most of the people and take him to go work in the mines. His family is saved, but only for a while, and he doesn't know where they are. All of this leads up to Solomon's discovery of a rare 100-caret diamond, of which dreams are born and blood is spilled. He hides it quickly, but the rebels know he has it - as does Archer. Archer forces Solomon into an unlikely partnership - in exchange for his help in finding Solomon's family, Solomon must take him to the diamond.
Zwick's tale is a blend of action, drama, politics and corruption, and unfortunately the movie doesn't always blend together perfectly. The movie plays out best as an action-adventure rather than a political commentary, but Zwick never stays on the action long enough to make the action sequences truly engaging. At the same time, its dramatic moments do carry well at times, especially toward the end where the film finally seems to find the correct pace. It is in the final act that Blood Diamond truly comes together, as it is intense and dramatically powerful. It is here that DiCaprio really shines.
This was definitely a risky role for DiCaprio. The baby-faced actor is not one who shies away from controversial or brutal roles, and in fact he is drawn to them, probably because he is still trying to distance himself from Titanic, which is the film that single-handedly is blamed for his fall from grace. But, if after Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator and The Departed people still have questions in their minds as to whether DiCaprio is just a pretty force or one of the best actors working in the field today, then they probably haven't seen those movies. Anyway, back to the original point - this was a risky role for DiCaprio, not only for the fact his character is an amoral smuggler who profits from innocent people dying nor shows much compassion throughout most of the movie for anyone or anything, but that his character requires a South African accent, an accent that sounds quite strange and jarring to most English-speaking people. The reaction to his accent in the trailers were volatile at best, but thankfully DiCaprio pulls it off quite well. The accent isn't always consistent, but his engaging performance still works on many levels. His final scenes are also the most touching and powerful scenes of the movie.
As for Djimon Hounsou, he is also a force to be reckoned with. Hounsou has always been a man on the verge of stardom, but for whatever reason is always underestimated and overlooked. Hounsou, who actually has more screen time than DiCaprio, is powerful from beginning to end, although unlike DiCaprio his best scenes come at the beginning. Hounsou does have a habit of overacting just a bit (a.k.a. shouting) and he does so here, but he is one of the rare actors who can really pull it off and make it believable.
Jennifer Connelly also has a large supporting role in the film, and unfortunately for her, she was cast for her pretty face and not her acting talent. While her character has an important part to play in a few moments, she is mainly there to be eye candy and seems to have been written in at the last moment. Her performance seems flat, perhaps because she realized she is the romantic interest and nothing else, even though the movie is not a romance in any sense of the word.
Blood Diamond is a good film with some good action scenes and some powerful moments. It is also overly ambitious. It attempts to tackle everything from commentary on the politics and corruption of the diamond industry to civil war to rebels killing innocent people to the recruitment and brainwashing of child soldiers to foreign countries not caring to America providing the largest demand for diamonds to a character study on a man without feeling (DiCaprio). It's just too much, and the movie feels disjointed because of it.
Zwick's Blood Diamond is a good picture that places a spotlight on the diamond industry, but if he feels so strongly about these issues, he would have been better off making two different movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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