Thoughts of 2004’s Hotel Rwanda zipped through my head as I watched Blood Diamond. As you may recall, Hotel Rwanda told the story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who took in thousands of Tutsi refugees to his establishment during their civil war with the Hutu militia. Blood Diamond is very similar and just as compelling, due in large part to a wonderfully commanding performance from Leonaro DiCaprio. With this and The Departed under his belt for 2006, I think it’s pretty safe to say that he’s the Comeback Actor of the Year.
Set in the late 1990’s against the backdrop of the Sierra Leone civil war, DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a South African mercenary who is tied in with some rather shady figures in the jewelry world. The Sierra Leone region is chock full of the precious stones and ordinary citizens are being kidnapped from their homes and forced to work in the diamond fields. One such citizen is Solomon Vandy (Hounsou), a fisherman who is separated from his family during one of the raids. While screening the waters for diamonds, he discovers a whopping ten carat pink diamond. Before being thrown in jail, Solomon buries the stone for safekeeping. While in jail, he meets Danny and they soon become unlikely partners in a quest to retrieve the diamond, which can change both of their lives for the better.
Half action film and half social commentary, Blood Diamond is endlessly engrossing and simultaneously difficult to watch. Seeing boys as young as ten killing captive civilians is plenty unsettling, but also maddening is the fact that Americans are only made aware of these horrors in passing on the news. The screenplay by Charles Leavitt takes plenty of jabs at the lack of national awareness on key African issues, particularly when showing the endless of coverage of the Clinton oval office snafu. A crane shot is which we see Archer, Vandy, and journalist Maddy Bowen (Connelly) entering a tented city of a million refugees is one of the most haunting images in film this year.
Director Edward Zwick is the perfect man for this kind of material. He specializes in high end, epic action sequences and Blood Diamond has a few humdingers. Zwick lets the action unfold and fill the whole frame, unlike so many directors who slap together a blur of close-ups. His knack for pacing is on full display as well, as the film runs over two hours and never for an instant feels it. The stunning cinematography by Eduardo Serra is also worthy of note, as he captures the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful spectrums of South Africa.
Blood Diamond could have wound up simply an average thriller, but Leonardo DiCaprio’s well-rounded, brilliant performance gives the film a life beyond others in the genre. DiCaprio’s Archer is educated, funny, and a smart ass – but he also means business and you’ll know when he does. Much has been made about DiCaprio’s accent, but I found it very convincing and natural. Djimon Hounsou also turns in a very powerful performance as Solomon, a man who truly believes he has nothing to lose as he painstakingly searches for his family. His scene in the prison will have even the hardest of hearts pushing the hairs down on their neck. Jennifer Connelly is perfectly cast as Maddy, the career journalist who simply cannot understand why the U.S. will not act on the crimes being committed in the region.
Blood Diamond is a film with lasting value and one that easily resonates in today’s climate. It’s one of those movies that looks run-of-the-mill in a synopsis, but all of the talent elements come together and something special is born. This is first-class film making across the board.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 143 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence and language.
Theatrical Release: December 8, 2006
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Written by: Charles Leavitt. Story by Leavitt & C. Gaby Mitchell.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Caruso Kuypers, Arnold Vosloo, Antony Coleman