Blood Diamond
Rated R, 138 minutes

Some years ago, I became a devoted fan of Sebastian Junger due to articles he wrote for Vanity Fair. He is probably best known for his piece, “The Perfect Storm,” which later became the George Clooney movie. His collection of short stories, “Fire,” is also on my shelf. Junger’s most recent book is “A Death in Belmont.” Junger has a passion for entering dangerous territories and writing about politically sensitive or taboo matters.

One of his Vanity Fair pieces some years ago was about Sierra Leone, conflict diamonds, Leone’s relationship with Liberia and Robert Taylor next door and the massacres in Sierra Leone, all in the name of diamonds. Junger’s piece with accompanying photos were brutally honest of the great unfolding tragedy. His story prompted me to do a lot more reading about Sierra Leone and the history of that section of Africa.

The movie “Blood Diamond,” set in 1999, is about a local fisherman, a diamond smuggler, violent revolutionaries and a cartel/syndicate of international businessmen all lusting after the same 100-carat pink, priceless diamond. Greed creates violence and horror the world over. As one of the characters stated in the movie, God has left mankind given how we treat one another.

This is a big budget Hollywood drama/thriller. However, the basic premise is what small indie films are made from, a man fighting to keep his family together and what he must do to achieve that end. That is the hook to get the audience to invest their emotions in this movie and its characters.

The movie was directed by Edward Zwick (“The Last Samuri,” “The Siege,” “Courage Under Fire,” “Legends of the Fall” and “Glory”). Zwick has a way with big budget, special effects, violent war scenes and conflict dramas. Blood Diamond is no exception. Diamond was written by Charles Leavitt (“K Pax”). The script is solid, except some pie-in-the-sky, cheesy dialogue that is delivered by Jennifer Connolly. That is perhaps the failing of her character and not Leavitt.

The opportunistic diamond smuggler is Danny Archer, played by Leonardo Di Caprio (“The Departed,” “Catch Me if You Can,” “The Aviator,” Gangs of New York”). Given his performance in “The Departed” and this movie, he could get Oscar nominations for both. He clearly studied to nail the Rhodesian (Archer’s admits to being Rhodesian and not from Zimbabwe) accent and plays this Clark Gable–type role brilliantly. His nuanced peformance is powerful. He has great chemistry with Jennifer Connolly, the American journalist Maddy Bowen.

Connolly has been seen in “The House of Sand and Fog,” “A Beautiful Mind” (Oscar win), “Little Children,” “Pollock,” and “Dark City.” Her Blood Diamond role was small and she was somewhat wasted. I also thought her character was initially painted into an idealistic corner, which was embarrassing as an American woman. How naive could she have been given her journalistic background? Maddy somewhat redeems herself and becomes more grounded as the movie progresses.

This movie however is stolen by Djimon Hounsou as Solomon Vandy, the Mende fisherman. Hounsou has been seen in “Gladiator,” “In America” and “Amistad.” He is perfectly cast as Solomon, a large imposing man with a loving gentle spirit, until his family is ripped apart by the revolutionaries. He convincingly wields a shovel.

Solomon is kidnapped and forced to work in the Kono diamond fields where he finds a large 100-carat pink diamond. He buries it before he is hauled off to jail. His wife and kids are refugees. His oldest son, Dia, is then taken by the revolutionaries, drugged with heroin and brainwashed to be a gun-toting killer. The army of children is well photographed in Sierra Leone. Those that opposed the powers got their arms, legs and hands chopped off. Junger’s exposee is full of these images.

Archer views the diamond as his ticket out of Africa. Bowen views the diamond as her ticket to a meaningful story with facts and figures exposing the real situation in Sierra Leone (not a typical “save-a-child” commercial on cable or PBS documentary), the revolutionaries view the diamond as a way to get many more AK-47s and grenade launchers, and the Antwerp diamond houses view the diamond as pure profit. Solomon views the diamond as the way to get his family together under one roof again.

The action sequences are believable with a great deal of violence and blood. They are interspersed between quiet dialogue and plot-development scenes. The two men, Archer and Vandy, must learn to trust one another and an uneasy truce builds. The movie is a character study of the those pursuing the diamond and Africa as a continent, TIA, This is Africa.

Blood Diamond reveals the heartsick, tragic misery and exploitation in Africa that swirls around oil, rubber, diamonds, whatever natural resource the west can exploit from the locals. The movie borders on the preachy.

The music was intrusive and drew attention to itself in all the wrong moments. It was overtly manipulative. The movie was too long at 138 minutes. The movie should have ended on the mountain top. When you see this film, you will know what I mean. The “Disney ending,” the last 10 minutes, was not appropriate. The incongruous feel-good ending was insulting to the movie as a whole. I felt the same way with the ending to “The Green Mile,” “Pay it Forward” and “The Constant Gardener.”

As films based in Africa go, “Hotel Rwanda” was better. “The Last King of Scotland” was better. “Out of Africa” was better. However, Blood Diamond was not a bad movie and definitely worth seeing.

Out of 5, it rates a 4. Hounsou gets a 5.

Jana Hardy

P.S. If you feel compelled to buy a diamond in the future, demand that it be a “non-conflict” diamond. In that fashion, you will not be supporting the Sierra Leone/Liberia atrocities.