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An ex-mercenary turned smuggler. A Mende fisherman. Amid the explosive civil war overtaking 1999 Sierra Leone, these men join for two desperate missions: recovering a rare pink diamond of immense value and rescuing the fisherman's son conscripted as a child soldier into the brutal rebel forces ripping a swath of torture and bloodshed countrywide.
In the hands of a lesser director, "Blood Diamond" could have turned into nothing more than "Jewel of the Nile" meets "Congo". Edward Zwick's hands are far from 'lesser'. In fact, this type of material typically flourishes in the hands of a filmmaker with Edward Zwick's track record. His breakout film, "Glory", thrust him into the forefront of the motion picture industry, and he followed that with critical darlings like "Legends of the Fall" and "Courage Under Fire". Though his well intended "The Siege" was a low point both critically and commercially, his Tom Cruise vehicle "The Last Samurai" was less of a comeback and more of a reaffirmation. Now comes "Blood Diamond", a gruesome, disturbing, dramatic and utterly chaotic action film that attempts to bring to light all of the blood that is shed in the continent of Africa. If "Borat" made Kazakhstan look like a terrible place to live, "Blood Diamond" essentially lights Africa on fire. "Blood Diamond" is one of the most violent and disturbing films to come out in a while, and it is wrapped up in this neat little Hollywood package of glitz and glamor. You might think I am going to give the film a negative review. Wrong. Just not a glowing one.
Channeling everyone from Sir Laurence Olivier to Haing S. Ngor, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler who cares only for himself and making certain his pockets are overflowing with cash. A former soldier and current soldier of fortune, Archer works for the largest diamond retailer in the world, but also holds allegiances to his former Colonel (Arnold Vosloo). However, the character of Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is really the focal point of the film. Early on, his family is taken away from him and he is sent to work in a diamond mine, where he discovers a rare and priceless stone known as a 'blood diamond' because of its reddish tint. He buries the diamond before he is arrested. While in prison, it is revealed that he knows where the diamond is buried, which makes him of immediate interest to Archer, who also happens to be in the same prison. We are soon introduced to the character of Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), a journalist who finds Archer interesting and becomes emotionally involved in Vandy's quest to find his family... especially his son. The remainder of the film deals with the smuggler, the journalist and the fisherman trekking across the jungle trying to find the son... and the diamond... but, unfortunately, no dialect coach.
The violence in this film is difficult to watch, at times. Director Edward Zwick got so wrapped up in trying to show the violence in Africa circa 1999, he ended up over-saturating the film with seven-year-old boys mowing down innocent civilians with machine guns and women and children being hacked to death in the streets. Whereas "Hotel Rwanda" managed to use the violence as a means to evoke a great sadness for the people, "Blood Diamond" overuses that violence and turns it into something more akin to the violence one might find in "Grand Theft Auto". By the time I had watched the twentieth preschooler shot in the head, I had been given enough carnage for one film. And, as violent as Africa was in 1999, one has to think some of this film's mayhem was overblown and unnecessary. However, on a brighter note, the film is gorgeously photographed and the action and intensity level never slacks for a moment. There are two standout scenes: (01) Leonardo DiCaprio, channeling everyone from Jack Nicholson to Joe Pesci, skinning a baboon and threatening to skin someone alive; and, (02) Djimon Hounsou taking shovel revenge on another character in the film. "Blood Diamond" is, first and foremost, an action flick and it lives up to the genre with flying colors.
In terms of performances, Leonardo DiCaprio was probably the actor of whom I was most pessimistic, since his accent in the trailer seemed anything but African. However, his accent didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, even though it was all over the map, from British to Jamaican to African to even American at some points. I was able to buy him as the tough guy though, and that helped a great deal. Jennifer Connelly is given very little in terms of character development, other than serving as the bleeding heart liberal who only does things she thinks are right and would never compromise her morals and values for anything - of course not - she's a journalist! But, in typical fashion, it is Djimon Hounsou who steals the show in yet another Oscar worthy performance. The downside is that he always receives overwhelming acclaim for portraying the same types of roles - from "Amistad" to "The Four Feathers" to "In America". This is not his best performance to date, but it's still ten times better than what most actors are offering up this year, or any year for that matter. He is able to evoke real emotions so fluidly that we forget we are watching an actor - we actually think we're watching a warrior.
On a closing note, "Blood Diamond" isn't the epic we've all been waiting for, and it certainly shouldn't receive much recognition come awards season, other than for Hounsou, whom will most certainly receive it in abundance. Edward Zwick has churned out yet another finely crafted action film, though I would rather have seen him scale back the buckets and buckets of blood just a tad. If you've read my critiques before, you know I have zero problem with violence. The bloodier the better, as long as it all seems relevant and necessary. "Blood Diamond" gave us far too much. I recommend "Blood Diamond" highly because of its high entertainment value, but the gore might be too much for some, and the two and a half hour runtime does get redundant at times. How many times can you watch someone run through the jungle before you get the point? For a better DiCaprio, check out "The Departed". For a better Hounsou, check out "Amistad". For a better Zwick, "Glory" is for you. "Blood Diamond" is your fourth ticket.
- added 03/17/2007, 03:29 PM
i love this movie.
- added 06/02/2007, 07:48 PM
I will simply begin in stating that I was
enthralled by this film. On that note, Blue, I've
always enjoyed your reviews, noted that you almost
always add valuable points where previously there
were not, and in fact, do not disagree with any of
your review, as it is a series of opinions which
you most certainly are entitled to. That said, I
will state that the film accurately depicts the
bloodshed at the time, and (sadly enough) this is
most certainly not an isolated incident in Africa.
Many (if not most) of the Central and Sub-Saharan
African nations experience these very events more
or less every day. This being the case, I have to
say that I didn't find the bloodshed excessive at
all, though perhaps a bit overwhelming. This is
the very visual to which the people of this
country should have to bear witness. Unpleasant
though it may be, it is an inarguable reality, and
I found that it added a cold reality check to a
film that (as you so eloquently stated), under
lesser direction, would have gone unrepresented.
I also feel the urge to state a correction here,
as the term 'blood diamond' doesn't refer to the
color of the stone, but rather its origins. They
are referred to as such due to the nature by which
they are collected; i.e. there is a figurative
'blood' on the stone for all that was shed to
bring it to the mainstream market. Another good
review from you, Blue, and I respect your scoring
for it's technical applications, but herein I'm
going to provide one of my own out of personal
10/10 - Damn fine flick.
This is my first post. Hi everyone. I
intend to run my mouth quite a bit here.
- added 06/03/2007, 02:25 AM
Yes, good correction -- I was mistaken on the
origin of the 'blood diamond'.
violence, however, was too much. If I want to see
a movie about the atrocities being committed in
Africa, "Hotel Rwanda" is that film for me. I
don't get into a movie called "Blood Diamond",
which is billed as an action/drama and expect to
be bombarded with buckets and buckets of blood.
This was very much an action film before it was an
accurate depiction. There were too many 'action
movie cliches' in this film for its depiction to
be totally authentic. I understand lots of
Africans die and I understand what goes on, and
it's all very sad. But I have a hard time
believing guns in Africa fire 2,000 bullets
without the need of a re-load. I have a hard time
believing that people can dodge bullets so
effortlessly. My problem was that they were
trying to an accurate representation, but then
they surrounded it with action movie cliches that
made the other less appropriate.
- added 06/03/2007, 08:43 PM
Fair enough. Now having not seen Hotel Rwanda, I
fear I can offer no criticism (not that I need
to), but I'm sure it's absolutely lovely. In any
case, I will restate, that I agree, your
criticisms are valid, and again, for technical
aspects of a film under scrutiny, I regard your
rating as entirely accurate, indeed roughly the
same I would have provided myself. Touche on the
reloads. God that is obnoxious in all films...
- added 10/14/2007, 01:10 AM
Looks like I've been spared the effort of
reviewing this. I'd say around 8/10, but I don't
think I'll ever have the urge to watch this again.