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DiCaprio’s latest highlights conflict diamonds

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, December 5, 2006

For many movies these days, it isn’t enough to simply be an adventure movie, a comedy or a romance. Often when movies try to tackle too many ideas and genres at once, they manage to accomplish nothing at all. “Blood Diamond” mostly succeeds at trying to be everything all at once. “Blood Diamond” is an “awareness” movie that desires to educate about the trade of “conflict” diamonds in Africa, a typically violent action movie and finally a drama about a father trying to reunite his family. Although its scope is large – and at times seems like too much for the film to handle – the final product is an interesting movie that is only mildly unsatisfying.

Conflict, or blood, diamonds are illegally mined gems – often coming from war zones – that are used to finance insurgency or war efforts. The issues surrounding the trade of these diamonds set up the film’s background.

“Blood Diamond” is set in 1999 during the civil war in Sierra Leone and centers on the exploits of Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe and diamond smuggler. Early on in the film he meets with Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a local fisherman. Although both are native Africans, they have led very different lives – lives whose sole point in common is the search for a rare pink diamond. Solomon, having been taken from his family by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), is forced to work in the country’s diamond fields. Solomon fatefully discovers the pink diamond and hides it. But finding that diamond once again with Archer is the only way for Solomon to reunite himself with his family and save his son Dia from also becoming a child soldier with the RUF.

The final player is Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist for Vanity Fair with a penchant for crisis situations. She meets with Archer in Sierra Leone while working to uncover the truth of the conflict, or blood, diamonds. Bowen agrees to help Archer and Vandy seek the diamond in exchange for information on the diamond dealers.

Ultimately, the movie is about discovering what is important and valuable in the life of each individual. To accomplish this, director Edward Zwick structures the movie as a journey for each of the characters in which they grow from having personal, selfish goals to sacrificing their desires in order to help others.

While raising concern regarding the conflict diamonds and their effect on Africa is the overriding mission of the film, “Blood Diamonds” hauntingly highlights another world-crisis – that of child soldiers. Solomon’s son, Dia, is captured by the RUF, allowing the audience to witness the process by which children are brainwashed and forced to commit horrible acts of violence. One of the film’s most powerful images depicts a boy soldier blindfolded and forced to shoot a man against a wall.

Director Edward Zwick is familiar with the “action with a message” genre, having directed “Courage Under Fire,” “Glory” and “The Last Samurai.” While “Blood Diamond” is politically relevant and noteworthy for bringing a new topic to the movie screen, its efforts to jump between issues and genres hurt its strength as a whole. Its weakest aspect is the script, written by Charles Leavitt (“K-19”).

Fortunately, the mediocre writing is counter-balanced by the outstanding performances delivered by all of the major actors. Once the audience moves past DiCaprio’s forced accent, it is easy to see that his performance in “Blood Diamond” will be remembered as one of his best so far.

Much like the topical diamonds, “Blood Diamond” certainly has its flaws. However, those flaws are far outweighed by the performances and heart, easily making the film one to see.