Those wanting to profit from diamond sales this holiday season may not like the message of Edward Zwick's latest handsomely mounted epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed).
Blood Diamond is an action-adventure tale set in 1999 Sierra Leone. This western part of Africa is in a civil war as ex-mercenary and Zimbabwe native Danny Archer, a mature, scruffy DiCaprio, smuggles "conflict" stones to Liberia. His primary client being the European conglomerate Van De Kamp.
Zwick, who made Glory and The Last Samurai, shows how weaponry is traded for what dreams are made of for many American ladies (or 15% of) and the atrocities when it comes to warfare and loss of human rights.
Billed under DiCaprio is Djimon Hounsou who transcends the part written by Charles Leavitt as decent local fisherman Soloman Vandy. Solomon stashes (or buries) a rare pink/clear diamond (the size of a bird's egg) while forced to work by rebel forces known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with his family off in a Guinea refugee camp.
Bookending this intermittently affecting, if protracted tale is a Group of Eight conference with a speaker (Stephen Collins) discussing the ramifications of the mining that goes on in places like Sierra Leone.
Blood Diamond features much explosive, horrific incidents before and after Archer and Solomon are seen in the same jail where the sadistic, scarred RUF leader Captain Poison (David Harewood) points out the fisherman's secret. Solomon eruptively refutes this maniacal man by showing that it's not in his possession.
The wily, amoral Archer, acted as a dashingly, yet sensitive rogue by DiCaprio, figures this gemstone is his liberation out of a crazy continent. And the noble Solomon sees it as crucial for his family to be together again in a place he believes will find peace again.
Important to Danny and Solomon is one Maddy Bowen, an independent-minded US print journalist, endowed with much skepticism by Jennifer Connelly (Dark Water, Hulk). She quickly notices Danny's motives when it comes to Solomon and lives for a crisis story like this, but needs hard facts when it comes producing a piece like "Trail of Terror From Jungles To Jewelers." Connelly's performance is earthy and practical, but she, like the movie, is hampered a bit by the educational aspects brought to the table when the action is subordinated with much line readings. Especially as her character is moved more towards the background for the picture's more emotional second half.
Yet, for the all the savagery and executions on view (some against innocent women and children), Zwick stages some harrowing, striking scenes when Solomon connects with his family in Guinea, but not his son Dia (Kagisu Kuypers), who has become brainwashed into a "baby killer" for the RUF. Also, when Solomon pretends to be a cameraman tending to a wounded child while Dia is molded into something far worse than the bright English-learning student his father impresses upon him.
The contrast between these Africans becomes more illuminating, even as Archer's backstory and Solomon's quest converge in desperate, taut circumstances. Danny doesn't often feel the love as referred to by his one-time mentor as a soldier-for-hire, Colonel, an avariciously cool Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy). DiCaprio uses his star power instinctively here with a bold ruthlessness that still earns viewer sympathy, while Hounsou is never less than piercing with deep feeling for his culture and family.
Though exciting, visceral sequences lead to a moving conclusion, the payoff is muted by the instructional nature of capturing the cost of indignation. Connelly's Maddie catches herself when rationalizing the effect of her occupation. African people continue to suffer and perish giving the soil a darker hue as Danny ultimately realizes in a vertiginous moment how this "conflict" was supposed to turn out.