Review: Blood Diamond

Though filmed in Mozambique and South Africa, Blood Diamond is pure Hollywood, a hair-raising roller coaster ride rife with gunplay and pyrotechnics.

(Scene from Blood Diamond).

Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a soldier of fortune from Zimbabwe, is in destabilized Sierra Leone to exchange arms for diamonds with the highest bidder, whether that be the government or the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

You see, this white Rhodesian is bitter about the loss of a birthplace he still refers to by its colonial name. So, he could care less how much blood is shed during Sierra Leone’s interminable civil war, so long as the violence is basically Black versus Black, and he is able to profit from the slaughter.

By contrast, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a local fisherman from the Mende people in Sierra Leone who would like nothing more than to leave his homeland, but first he has to find his family which has vanished amidst the chaos, and he has no idea whether they’re dead or alive. Luckily, Solomon had the good fortune to find a priceless stone while being forced to dig for diamonds at gunpoint by the outlawed RUF. The problem is that he had to bury the gem on the mining site, because he would have been executed on the spot, if caught stealing.

Meanwhile, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an intrepid American journalist, is in the country doing research for an expose’ she wants to write on the role that the diamond industry plays in the continuing controversy by its unethical emphasis on profits over principles. It’s hard to see how the fates of these three strangers, Danny, Solomon and Maddy, might become intertwined, but that is exactly what transpires in Blood Diamond, a taut, if simplistically drawn thriller directed by Edward Zwick (Glory).

Set in Sierra Leone in 1999, the movie is essentially a high body count, action adventure despite its political potboiler pretensions. Fortunately, those interested in a more cerebral examination of the subject matter need look no further than the informative documentary Empire in Africa, also currently in theaters.

Though filmed in Mozambique and South Africa, Blood Diamond is pure Hollywood, a hair-raising roller coaster ride rife with gunplay and pyrotechnics. Plus, it comes multi-layered with sentimental subplots at every turn, from the unlikely-buddy relationship between Danny and Solomon to a budding romance between Maddy and Danny to Maddy’s maternalistic concern for the whereabouts of Solomon’s kin.

Turns out his wife (Benu Mabhena) and children are in a refugee camp except for one son (Caruso Kaypers) who has been kidnapped and brainwashed by the rebels. Seemingly impervious to bullets, again and again, our heroes manage to emerge unscathed from dire scenarios where everyone else is dropping like flies.

DiCaprio, Hounsou and Connelly turn in decent performances, even if in service of a flick where they’re upstaged by ubiquitous savagery. Ultimately, all the loose ends of this well-meaning fairy tale are tied together nicely, albeit a tad too sappily for those who know what a tragedy Sierra Leone was really like.

Good (2 Black Stars). Rated R for expletives, ethnic slurs, and graphic violence.
Running time: 138 minutes.  Studio: Warner Brothers

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