Almost a real gem
Kanye West recently waxed lyrical about Diamonds From Sierra Leone, and if I could be bothered listening to that song or even Googling the lyrics I'm sure I could find a multitude of parallells and/or witicisms with which to open this review of Blood Diamond, director Edward Zwick's message-heavy "issuetainment" (a word I have used once, and shall ONLY use once) offering. But I can't. Obviously sensing some kudos potential in the subject matter and the challenge of making a patchy attempt at an accent, Leonardo DiCaprio heads the bill as South African mercenary-cum-smuggler Danny Archer, hot on the trail of a priceless pink conflict diamond happened upon by recently enslaved farmer Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou). Having been kidnapped by rebels in Sierra Leone and forced to pan for gems at gunpoint, Vandy is keen to escape and find his son who is being trained by the same rebels as a child soldier, and so he and Archer join somewhat unlikely forces. Not only does this afford them a better shot at their mutually beneficial goals, but it also offers Hounsou the chance to do his "raspy shouting and bulging eyes" routine lots and DiCaprio a golden opportunity to emote angst over his moral dilemma. Oh, and say "ya, ya, ya..." lots.
Also aboard the good ship Shitzingiggles is the ever lovely Jennifer Connelly as investigative journalist Maddy Bowen. Unfortunately the role doesn't offer our Jen quite the depth of character to which she's become accustomed, but since her character exists primarily to highlight the moral plight of the whole conflict diamond issue in nice, easily digested bold strokes while offering Archer's soul a shot at redemption it doesn't really matter all that much. In fact, it was actually quite pleasing that Bowen isn't even portrayed as a token sex object, her entwinement with Archer largely implied rather than billboarded across our retinas. In fact if I'm being honest Zwick handles a number of issues in a refreshingly simple, non-clich?d manner that lends the film an air not of blandness but rather honesty that helps counter the occasional moments of Indiana Jones-like indulgence.
As well executed as the action moments are, you don't bring talent like DiCaprio and Connelly on board unless you have some design on performance kudos, and flailing accent aside Leo does a fair old job of portraying Archer as a man not quite so born of moral ambiguity as it may at first seem. While he's not given any really big emotional scenes to contend with there's still enough here to have kept him ticking over between prestige projects such as The Departed and, well, whatever he's doing next. Hounsou manages admirably as the grief stricken Solomon, although I am slightly perplexed by his Best Supporting Actor nomination at this year's Academy Awards. Unlike DiCaprio however he does get the opportunity to shed an anguished tear or two over the fate of his son, although the most lasting impression I left with was that a movie where he and Al Pacino spent two hours just screaming at each other would surely blow everything else ever committed to celluloid clean out of the water.
As well acted as it is, many will go to see Blood DIamond primarily on it's positioning as an upmarket action movie, and there's certainly much to be enjoyed. Having said that there were occasional moments at which I felt mildly unsure over Zwick's interpretation of proceedings, mixing as the screenplay does intense moral issues with some genuinely upsetting circumstances (mostly involving the child soldiers) and a fair old dash of comic book action. At times there is an almost "graphic novel" feel to the action and characterisation, and some of the set pieces feel a little staged, but rather than having dealt with things in a cackhanded fashion it eventually dawns that Zwick has actually done a bang up job of walking a very fine line between action, responsibility and objectivity. There's no doubting the sincerity of Blood Diamond's message, but it's serious observations on the situation in countries like Sierra Leone won't detract the casual viewer from what is also a very successfuly executed action adventure.
Djimon Hounsou (Solomon Vandy)
Jennifer Connelly (Maddy Bowen)