Title: Blood Diamond
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Play time: 2h 23min
Director: Edward Zwick
Screenwriters: Charles Leavitt
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly
DiCaprio Raises The Quality of Blood Diamond
There was a time, wasn’t there, when Leonardo DiCaprio was considered just another vapid pretty face — somewhere circa Titanic? If that reputation wasn’t eradicated with Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator, it certainly has been following this year’s one-two punch of The Departed and Blood Diamond. In Blood Diamond he even tries a tricky African accent and, wouldn’t you know it, after a touch-and-go start, it works.
The Characters and Plot
His character, a ruthless, tough and corrupt Zimbabwe-bred diamond smuggler, is the most interesting part of Edward Zwick’s well-intentioned, occasionally awkward issue epic. The obnoxiousness of the closing title card declaring that it’s up to us, the consumers, to make sure that the diamonds we buy — on our bi-monthly diamond shopping sprees, I suppose — are conflict free is neutralized by the fact that though the film is rather trite and sometimes even tedious in a broad sense, it can be fascinating in the details.
DiCaprio’s Danny Archer has enough archetypical elements to be recognizable — no family, no home, a preternatural confidence, and a cocky amorality that pretty well foreshadows his character arc — enough personality to be engaging, and enough volatility to be unpredictable moment-to-moment.
Archer is given a putative love interest in the form of idealistic journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). Connelly’s character is strangely underwritten — we learn little beyond that she is fundamentally decent, devoted to her cause, and intrigued by Archer — and the Casablanca moment the two of them have to kick off the last act (the line “you, uh, better get on that plane” follows closely behind “you find yourself a good man, alright Maddie?”) is bizarre bordering on inappropriate.
Do Jennifer Connelly and Leonardo DiCaprio Add Up, in Blood Diamond?
Part of the problem, maybe, is that the Connelly-DiCaprio dynamic can’t help but remain peripheral, since the central relationship is between Archer and a desperate, impoverished Mende fisherman named Solomon (Djimon Hounsou, and no, I did not make up “Solomon”) who finds an unspeakably valuable pink stone in the diamond fields and manages to hide it but not before losing his son to a brutal warlord.
It’s neat in the way it doesn’t fit into any of the predictable frameworks: the combination of the plot, the setting, and Hounsou’s character’s name suggests, terrifyingly, that Hounsou will be playing one of those “black sage” characters — a condescending bit of business where the African-American supporting character imparts his pseudo-philosophical, possibly occult wisdom to the white protagonist. But no: Solomon is neither unduly submissive (though he does, perhaps, tolerate a few too many threats of bodily harm from DiCaprio) nor does he teach lessons; his simple humanity is often a humbling counterpoint to Archer’s larger-than-life heroics.
Zwick is not a particularly imaginative filmmaker, sometimes prone to played-out gambits like juxtaposing workers toiling in the Sierra Leone diamond fields with first-world politicos and industry types bloviating in a conference room about – What Must Be Done – regarding African conflict zones.
Zwick is a Mainstream Storyteller
The fact that he decides to return to a similar notion to end the film is regrettable. But he’s a solid mainstream storyteller, too, and he figures out a way to keep the film suitable for mass consumption without trivializing the tough material. Some will grumble at Blood Diamond’ refusal to become truly threatening — the child warrior training camps it attempts to depict really should have been more harrowing than they are — but in fairness, it is always fairly emphatic about being a movie in the grand Hollywood tradition. Even its stabs at significance are a little cheesy.
Zwick’s last film was The Last Samurai, which starred Tom Cruise in a role similar to DiCaprio’s in its iconic quality. The contrast is a terrific illustration of the latter’s power as an actor. Where Cruise was Cruise, DiCaprio disappears into his role; where Cruise crushed his movie, DiCaprio lifts it up.