Review: Blood Diamond (2006)

Director: Edward Zwick

****

As Shirley Bassey once intoned, diamonds are forever (Naomi Campbell could not be contacted to confirm this). As such, the price of diamonds is very high; not just monetarily, but also in human terms. Hundreds of people die each year in the illicit trading of so-called ‘blood diamonds’ in West Africa. This is the basis for Blood Diamond, Edward Zwick’s exciting and relevant exploration of an oft-neglected problem.

You have to love the way awards season brings about a raft of ‘issue films’. The film opens on a meeting of diamond-importing nations as a major diamond importing firm agree to cease the import of blood diamonds. As this meeting is intercut with an attack on a village in Sierra Leone by a revolutionary group, it’s fair to say that these suits ain’t gonna keep their promise. Ooh, eeeevil men in suits! People dying in poor countries! Oscar, please? Zwick, calm down! You have one already, alright?

Anyway, the rebels capture one of the villagers, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who is then forced to work as a diamond miner. He discovers an exceptionally rare diamond and, having escaped his captors, hides the diamond and tries to find his family. However, word gets around about this diamond, attracting the attention of  a diamond smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio), a journalist (Jennifer Connelly) and various military and rebel factions.

For all its heavy-handed polemical aspects, Blood Diamond manages a difficult balancing act between sincere depiction of horrific atrocities and action-centred thriller, mostly due to Charles Leavitt’s script, and its refusal to shoehorn action scenes in except where necessary. Indeed, the scenes of combat are exciting, but also necessarily horrific as numerous innocent victims get caught in the crossfire. In between, there is plenty of meaty dialogue, and the cast chew it with aplomb. DiCaprio’s Danny Archer is brash and cocksure, and DiCaprio deserves a lot of credit for never making him completely likeable, as well as for sticking with the South African accent. The character of Maddy Bowen is pretty much Female Token No. 37, but Connelly gives her a definite presence. Hounsou gives the best performance of the three leads, with anguish and anger written all over his face as Vandy tries to track down his family while having to lead Archer to the diamond.

For all the excitement and good acting, there are still problems. Zwick is right to believe in the story’s strength, but it’s no excuse to descend into unremarkable filmmaking in the second half of the film, especially when the material is the kind of awards fodder that he is so often drawn to. Edward, Best Director Oscars (usually) go to directors who take risks. Try it sometime! It could also be argued that bloody reality is being exploited for the sake of entertainment, but if it draws attention to a cause, it may not be altogether a bad thing. It’s no stone cold classic, but Blood Diamond is still an urgent, visceral and worthwhile film.

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