Monday, June 20, 2011

The Movie List: Blood Diamond (2006)

Film: Blood Diamond
Director: Edward Zwick
Oscar nominations: 5 (Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio; Supporting Actor, Djimon Honsou; Editing, Steven Rosenblum; Sound Editing, Lon Bender; Sound Mixing, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer and Ivan Sharrock)
*denotes win

Blood Diamond is a film that takes on a very serious issue: the trade of "blood diamonds," diamonds mined in nations such as Sierra Leone (the film's setting) that help finance terrorism, civil war and warlords. The reality of how much money goes into these "blood diamonds" is astonishing, and many nations around the world have taken measures to prevent the sale of such diamonds. Blood Diamond is intended to be a film that both raises awareness on the issue while also providing entertainment, something that it only partially succeeds at.

The film begins when Solomon Vandy, a fisherman from Sierra Leone, is kidnapped, along with his wife and son, by a warlord involved in the Rebel forces in the civil war. While his son is turned into a child soldier, Solomon is forced to dig for diamonds. When he discovers a large uncut diamond, he hides it and makes his escape to Freetown, where he meets mercenary Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio). Danny agrees to help Solomon find his son in return for the diamond, but as he becomes closer to war journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), his sketchy motives seem to be becoming more honest. However, he's up against savage soldiers and other opportunists hoping to find the diamond.

The film cements director Zwick as the Stanley Kramer of our time, choosing to make films that play on Big Issues in a way to raise awareness. And to his credit, he does make the film exciting and doesn't get explicitly preachy too much. The film works best when it focuses on Danny and Solomon's journey through West Africa, as the two men barely trust each other but need each other in order to escape Africa (one of Danny's slogans, "This is Africa," serves as both a justification for the horrors he's witnessed and a weary dismissal of it). And Zwick does a terrific job at staging some great, powerful sequences, such as the attack on Freetown and Solomon's discovery of his son in a rebel camp. However, the film lags whenever the story shifts to Danny's relationship with Maddy, who becomes the blatant mouthpiece for the "war is hell" and "stop the blood diamonds" message. The two don't have much real chemistry, and the character of Maddy is so ill-shaped that it's almost ridiculous to call her a character.

This isn't to say that Connelly is bad; she does the best she can with the character, but in the end it's a thankless role. DiCaprio fares better as Danny, as he manages to turn in an interesting performance in spite of a very dodgy Afrikaans accent. It's not the best performance of his career (or even of that year - he's better in The Departed), but it does help elevate the film. The best performance, though, comes from the always-reliable Honsou, who is completely believable as a father willing to do anything to find his son again. His performance could have easily been one-note, but Honsou layers it with shades of innocence lost and, paradoxically, endless optimism. It's great work, and completely worthy of the nomination he received.

Blood Diamond has it's flaws as entertainment, but it's hard to knock it too much when it's intentions are so good. It's a decent action film, with some interesting performances and thrilling sequences.

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