While working in television, Edward Zwick amassed credits
for some of the best-reviewed "cult" series of the late 20th Century.
He produced, directed and/or wrote episodes for such beloved shows
as FAMILY, THIRTYSOMETHING, and ONCE AND AGAIN. His feature
film credits as a director, however, are a mixed bag. From the David
Mamet adaptation ABOUT LAST NIGHT ... through the Civil War drama
GLORY to the would-be epic LEGENDS OF THE FALL to the contemporary
war mystery COURAGE UNDER FIRE to the Tom Cruise vehicle
THE LAST SAMURAI, there's a certain earnestness that runs through
his output. His films mean well and are often designed to teach lessons,
but they are not always great or even good movies. Sadly, his latest
effort, BLOOD DIAMOND, falls into that same category.
There's been a lot of pre-release publicity surrounding the
movie which attempts to educate viewers in part about "conflict
diamonds," that is, gemstones produced in regions that are unstable
and where the profits from their sale are funnelled back to fund
wars or repressive regimes that engage in torture, maiming and
other heinous acts. Companies like DeBeers have taken a pro-active
role in attempting to educate the public. All this may be well and
good, and I've no doubt the intentions of the movie makers and
its cast and crew were heartfelt, but the on screen result is a
mishmash -- a blending of several different genres that doesn't
exactly add up to much.
The plot goes something like this: fisherman Solomon Vandy
(Djimon Hounsou, once again portraying a noble African) watches
as his village in Sierra Leone is destroyed by rebels during that
country's protracted civil war. He is spared from having his hand cut
off and sent to work in the diamond mines while his family become
refugees. One day, he finds a large pink diamond which he tries
to hide -- if caught, the punishment is certain death. As fate would
have it, the rebel leader (David Harewood in an exaggerated portrayal
of a villain) catches him in the act of burying the stone. He's about
to kill Solomon when the area falls under attack. Both men are
captured and imprisoned. In the jail cell is mercenary Danny Archer
(Leonardo DiCaprio) who overhears talk of the diamond. In need of
some leverage, he springs Vandy from prison and makes him an
offer. As the civil war encroaches, the two men enter into an uneasy
alliance. Along the way, Archer also meets American journalist Maddy
Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) who tags along for part of the ride.
The complicated plot spins out in various directions. Archer
uses Maddy's connections to learn the whereabouts of Solomon's
family. When he discovers that his beloved son Dia (Kagiso Kuypers)
has been captured by the rebels, Vandy becomes determined to
rescue him. Archer agrees to help. Maddy is skeptical of his assistance
realizing that Archer probably intends to steal the diamond for his
own nefarious purposes and this little roundelay plays out. Along the
way, they are often caught in the crossfire of the war and yet somehow
emerge with barely a scratch. (I guess it's a movie cliche -- it's the
sort of thing one expects to see in a RAMBO or films of that ilk,
but not in something striving so hard for "importance.")
The sad part about BLOOD DIAMOND is that somewhere
inside it all, there could be a compelling story. Screenwriter
Charles Leavitt working from a story he concocted with C. Gaby Mitchell
is part buddy movie, part romance, part war drama, part civics lesson.
It all ends up being a confusing mess, however.
It seems that Hounsou has cornered the market on playing
the moral center of the film. He's made his career on similar characters
from AMISTEAD through GLADIATOR and his Oscar-nominated turn in
IN AMERICA. It's the sort of untaxing role he can perform in his sleep.
The script fails him in several instances, too. One particularly egregious
moment has him shouting after his son while in hiding from the
rebel forces. It's the sort of moment that would get any other character
killed, but miraculously he survives -- indeed, he HAS to survive.
Connelly appears to be too beautiful to be believable as a
tough journalist, but she manages to make the audience believe
in her. In fact, this performance is one of her most relaxed and
most naturalistic. There's not a great deal of romantic chemistry
between her and DiCaprio, though, which may be why the romance
is downplayed or conducted off screen.
DiCaprio continues to grow as a performer. After proving that
he is now an adult in THE AVIATOR and especially with his fine
work in THE DEPARTED, he brings a grit and determination to this
role, even if his accent waivers a little. (Archer is supposed to be
from Zimbabwe, although he continues to refer to the country as
As the adage goes, though, the road to hell is paved with
good intentions and BLOOD DIAMOND is nothing if not well intentioned.
Unfortunately, it squanders a lot of good will and its message
about Sierra Leone, the atrocities committed (Vandy at one point
asks the obvious, "How can a people do this?"), and the resulting
legacy are muted. Lost even deeper is the concept of the conflict
diamond. In order to avoid purchasing these gems, the buyer should
seek a "certificate of origin" to determine whether or not the stones
were mined in a country that does not trade the diamonds for
guns or money to purchase weaponry.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language
Running time: 143 mins.
Viewed at the Warner Bros. Screening Room
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.