Friday, April 4, 2008

Film Review: Blood Diamond

"Blood Diamond" *** (out of ****)

At first glance Edward Zwick's "Blood Diamond" appears to be nothing more than an action/adventure story. Not to say it couldn't be good, but, it seemed routine by Hollywood's standards. But Zwick and screenwriter Charles Leavitt have thrown in a social message to give the film some importance.

The film revolves around "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds", diamonds which are illegally smuggled out of Africa to Western countries. As a result of this, a civil war in Sierra Leone rages on as the money helps fund rebel forces.

Depending on your point of view, the film could either sound quite noble or heavy-handed. If you'd like to read some scathing reviews against the film check out The New York Times or Village Voice. But I'm not in the scathing business. I haven't scathe anyone since I was 13.

Though one could see their point. Is it possible to make a Hollywood film about exploiting the business of smuggling diamonds without exploiting the cause itself for potential box-office appeal? I don't have the answer to that question, but I don't think it matters. We are discussing a film here. I'm not giving a lecture at a university. Meaning, judge the film on cinematic terms not how effectively it will change the world and how other countries will view it. No film can solve a world problem. Do not it expect it to.

The film follows three central characters; Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) a smuggler, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) a local fisherman who has been forced to work in diamond mines, while his family has been taken away from him and an American journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) who comes to Africa hoping to break the diamond smuggling story.

Solomon finds a pink diamond, which he hides from his captors, not before one of them sees it and has Solomon arrested. It is the rarest of stones. And like the Maltese Falcon, it is the stuff dreams are made of. For Danny, is it his chance to get out of Africa. For Solomon it may be used to reunite him with his family. And for Maddy it may lead her to her big story. So all three travel across Africa to locate the diamond.

The film was released in 2006 and was DiCaprio's first performance after Martin Scorsese's "The Departed". Both provide the actor with tough guy, hard edge roles. And he is quite good in this film. Who would have thought the kid from "Titanic" would turn out to be such a good actor? I cannot say the same for Djimon Hounsou. Someone seems to have told this gentleman he can act. He has already been nominated for two Oscars (one for his performance here and another for his performance in "In America"). But Mr. Hounsou, who first entered the spotlight after appearing in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" has no acting range. He appears to be playing the same character over and over again. Mrs. Connelly though gives a wonderful performance. I don't think I have ever seen her look more beautiful. Which is odd considering the backdrop of the film; war, blood, dead bodies...ect.

The film also has some of the most rapid edit cuts I have seen since "The Bourne Ultimatum". Which may have been done to show the chaotic nature of Africa or to give the viewer the feeling of being there, it does little more than make you dizzy. And, while speaking of editing, the film could have been shortened. It runs at two hours and 24 minutes. There is some excess fat to the story which could have been trimmed here and there, making the story a little tighter.

Still "Blood Diamond" does put on a good show, even while the film's political message may get a little heavy-handed at times. Director Zwick at least keeps the film moving along as an action film, which is where it largely succeeds.

"Blood Diamond" was nominated for five Oscars including "Best Actor" (DiCaprio) and "Best Supporting Actor" (Hounsou).