Leonardo DiCaprio as Danny Archer
Djimon Hounsou as Solomon Vandy
Jennifer Connelly as Maddy Bowen
Caruso Kuypers as Dia Vandy
Arnold Vosloo as Colonel Coetzee
Antony Coleman as Cordell Brown
Benu Mabhena as Jassie Vandy
David Harewood as Captain Poison
Basil Wallace as Benjamin Kapanay
Jimi Mistry as Nabil
Michael Sheen as Simmons
Marius Weyers as Van De Kaap
Stephen Collins as Ambassador Walker
Ntare Mwine as M’Ed
Ato Essandoh as Commander Rambo
Directed by Edward Zwick
What could have been an insightful look at the bloody African diamond trade gets mired down in its desire to fit into a generic Hollywood action-thriller mold. In doing so, the important African message is diluted into a rather ugly and potentially racist film.
1999 Sierra Leone. Fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Honsou) is caught in the country’s civil war when he’s taken from his family to mine diamonds for rebel forces. When he finds a large diamond, he tries to hide it from his ruthless taskmasters. Its existence is discovered by Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mercenary arrested for smuggling diamonds across the board, who offers to help Solomon find his family for the diamond’s location.
There’s a lot of well-researched information about the African diamond trade in this political thriller from director Edward Zwick (“Glory,” “The Last Samurai”) but somewhere along the way, it gets lost in its desire to mold itself into a Hollywood film, making it seem like a lesser effort than other independently-made African dramas released this past year.
Sierra Leone is a country at war between the government and rebels, who pillage local villages to find slaves to mine the diamonds that finance their war, while separating kids from parents and brainwashing them into machine gun wielding soldiers in their revolution. Solomon Vandy (Hounsou) is a simple fisherman, a family man spared from a grisly fate in order to mine the river for diamonds, separating him from his family. He finds an enormous diamond, potentially his ticket out of the war-torn country, but he’s forced to hide it when he’s captured by the army. He’s saved by a white African named Danny Archer (DiCaprio) who agrees to help him find his son in exchange for the location of the diamond. The rest of the movie involves them trying to find the diamond before the rebels and the government, all of whom want the diamond for their own reasons.
“Traffic” and “Syriana” writer Stephen Gaghan set up a solid formula delivering a real-world message by showing a specific industry through the eyes of various players. “Blood Diamond’s” range is limited to a handful of people involved in the illegal African diamond trade, including interesting tidbits about how the UN has prevented trade with war-torn countries due to the bloodshed involved in retrieving the illegal diamonds, which are then bought by big companies to increase market price. It’s obvious that the motivation behind making “Blood Diamond” was to tell a meaningful tale of the African diamond trade, but director Edward Zwick takes a relatively simple story and tries too hard to make it into an exciting movie with lots of explosions and gunfire. That would be all fine and good, except that in doing so, he misses his chance to make a timely and relevant movie. Instead, he instills it with old school Hollywood sensibilities, as if he were more concerned about making an Oscar-worthy movie than about the credibility of his film’s important message. The number of ridiculous Hollywood tropes that rear their head make some of the situations harder to believe, diluting any message with the racist assumption that Solomon would need the help of the “white man” to survive in his own country. It’s even more offensive when Leo dons a black face to break into a rebel camp, a moment that leaves your jaw agape from its very audacity.
The sad fact that most Americans don’t care much about Africa is proven by the fact that Zwick needed recognizable name stars to sell the film. Unlike movies like “The Last King of Scotland” and “Catch a Fire,” both based on real people and stories, the fictional characters and situations created for “Blood Diamond” just aren’t that interesting.
Trying to get further away from his usual baby-face roles, Leonardo DiCaprio sports a beard to take on the “mature role” of ruthless mercenary Danny Archer, a despicable and unforgivable character whose only motivation is money, who is only helping Solomon to steal his diamond. It’s not a particularly good role for the miscast DiCaprio, who isn’t very convincing in playing a character who is far from the film’s protagonist. His embarrassing attempt at a South African accent does very little to mask his limited range in this type of role either. Likewise, Jennifer Connelly doesn’t have to do much as an American journalist besides acting smart and looking sexy, pretty much what she’s become best at, and the romance between her and Archer seems forced from the second they meet.
Djimon Hounsou’s strong performance as Solomon makes it obvious how much stronger the movie would have been if it focused solely on him and left out the other two characters. He does have a few moments of needless overacting, but otherwise, Hounsou is far more interesting and convincing than his co-stars.
The lack of any true tension in “Blood Diamond” detracts from its worth as a political thriller, and predictably, everything falls into place just like any other Hollywood formula film. Theres nothing surprising about the ending, and by the time you get there, youre so annoyed by the lack of originality in the storytelling that even a happy ending wouldnt be very satisfying.
The Bottom Line:
In recent years, there have been many great films about the plight of the African people, and though “Blood Diamond” does have something new to offer in terms of the diamond trade, it does so in such a meaningless cookie-cutter way. The diamond industry’s worries and fears about the movie’s revelations are needless and unfounded, since the movie is ultimately ineffective at getting any sort of message across.