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Blood Diamond


Year of release

Directed by
Edward Zwick

Written by
Marshall Herskovitz
Edward Zwick

Leonardo DiCaprio
Djimon Hounsou
Jennifer Connelly
Arnold Vosloo
David Harewood

Blood Diamond


Plot - Sierra Leone, 1999. Fisherman Solomon Vandy (Hounsou) has his life torn apart when his village is attacked by the RUF rebel militia. Kidnapped and taken away from his family, he is forced to work in the diamond mines. Whilst there he uncovers a huge pink diamond which he attempts to keep secret from his captors. During his attempts to hide it, he is caught by the rebel's leader Captain Poison (Harewood). Solomon's skin is saved however when at that very moment the rebel camp is attacked and Solomon is arrested by the army. As he waits in prison, Poison informs all of their fellow prisoners about the diamond that Solomon has in his possession and places a price upon his head. Amongst the prisoners there is a very interested party in the form of Danny Archer (DiCaprio), a mercenary and diamond smuggler. Arranging Solomon's release from prison Archer confronts him about the diamond, proposing that they work together. Solomon agrees, on the condition that Archer helps him locate his missing family. When they do so with the help of American journalist Maddy Bowen (Connelly) they discover that his son Dia has been recruited by the RUF rebels. Together the two men embark on their respective quests; one for the fortune he has always dreamed of, and the other for the life of his son.

There's a tragic irony at the heart of Blood Diamond's story. As a result of the whims and desires of the very rich and the quest for wealth, it is the very poor who suffer. The film itself spells this out at the very start with a message on the screen; “Sierra Leone, 1999. Civil War rages for control of the diamond mines. Thousands have died and millions have become refugees. None of whom has ever seen a diamond.” Further evidence of this can be seen during a sequence which intercuts back and forth between these two very different worlds. On the one hand we have the experiences of Hounsou's Solomon Vandy; we see his village brutally overrun and its inhabitants slaughtered, followed by his enforced servitude working in the diamond mines. While playing against this we see a bunch of rich white guys in suits sitting around discussing the situation in comfort.

Much like the continent of Africa itself, there is a conflict to be found in Blood Diamond; a conflict of beauty and horror. It is a continent of stunning beauty, which all too often is lost under the rivers of blood that cover its lands. The horror comes from the action sequences (more on them in a moment) that convey the horrific events that scar this area, and the scenes that depict the young boys stolen from their families and transformed into these bloodthirsty soldiers. During the breathers from this chaos however we are shown the other side of Africa; the sheer beauty of its land. The cinematography of Eduardo Serra successfully captures some truly astonishing images of Africa's bewitchingly harsh, almost mystical landscape, frequently shot during the so-called 'magic hour' of dawn or dusk to further enhance the drama of the image, taking place as they do under a searing orange sun. And you can certainly tell at all times that this was filmed on location in Africa. There's no sign of any Hollywood studio backlots, or of some Eastern European country acting as a cheaper substitute. Blood Diamond was filmed on location across South Africa and Mozambique, and doing so just adds so much more substance to the experience. Throw in James Newton Howard's poignant and rousing score that matches the journey of the characters and you have an exotic experience of flair and flavour.

On the evidence of the action in Blood Diamond I would be very surprised if Edward Zwick had never been considered or even contacted for films in the superhero and action genres, perhaps even a James Bond film. The action sequences throughout the film are quite excellent; the direction, editing and sound design proving a real assault on the senses that are a suitable match for what must be a truly terrifying situation in real life. They are frantic and chaotic instances which are very thrilling until the reality of the situation sets in, until it dawns on us that we are watching young boys indiscriminately gunning down innocent women and children who are running for their lives. The sequences really show how this is a world where your whole life can change in a mere instant. We see Solomon and his son Dia sharing a touching father-son moment as they laugh and joke with each other; and then with the appearance of a single truck on the horizon carrying armed soldiers of the RUF, they are forced to start running for their lives.

Film Trivia Snippets - The name of Solomon Vandy's son in the film is Dia, which actually means 'expensive' in Krio, the adopted language of Sierra Leone. /// At the end of the film, Solomon Vandy addresses a conference on blood diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa, describing his experiences. This conference actually took place in Kimberley in 2000. The conference resulted in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a system now used by diamond traders to certify the origin of diamonds, in order to curb the trade and sale of conflict diamonds. /// During pre-production Edward Zwick had two top choices for the role of Danny Archer, Leonardo DiCaprio who did eventually get the role and Russell Crowe. /// Blood Diamond was nominated for five Oscars at the 2007 Academy Awards - Best Actor (DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Hounsou), Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. The film came away empty-handed however. /// In the scene where Danny Archer arrives in South Africa, there are two women standing in front of the airport and he walks by them. These women are Leonardo DiCaprio's mother and grandmother. /// Blood Diamond went on to amass a total box-office gross of $171407,179. While its DVD release saw it shift 3,620,038 units which added a furter $62,723,329.
Rather unwittingly I've had myself quite the season of Leonardo DiCaprio films of late (thanks to my season of Scorsese films), and yet again I thought he gave another very strong showing. I can certainly see why he is so highly thought of as an actor. The most notable element of this performance is certainly to be found in his Rhodesian accent. I personally cannot judge its authenticity as I have no idea what it is meant to sound like. What I will say though is that certainly in the initial stages it came across as so odd to me. It's just so different from what you expect him to sound like that it took me out of the film a little early on; not helped by the fact it gave me some Jar Jar Binks flashbacks! In Djimon Hounsou we have quite a strong example of typecasting. In Gladiator he played a slave who fought in the gladiatorial arena, in Amistad he played a slave aboard a slave ship and here once more he plays a slave, forced into service in the diamond mines of Africa. However I'm really not surprised he has found himself called upon so often for such a role. Beyond the obvious colour of his skin and his physical build I think he just has some of the perfect attributes required for such a tough task. For a start I think he has the talent needed to depict the pain and anguish of the situation but it's more than that. Through both his noble face and just his inner nature he gives off this aura of dignity, perseverance and a great inner strength which makes you buy into the character, his struggles and the notion that he can overcome them. His impassioned quest to find and save his son provides the real driving force for the film. I don't feel that the film is quite as successful with its other main performer, Jennifer Connelly. She takes on the role of Maddy Bowen, a hard-hitting journalist trying to mine a story concerning the sale of blood diamonds. I just did not buy into her being this character however; I didn't feel she had the required strength or grit for this supposedly tough, hard-as-nails reporter who will do anything for a story. I think the film could very easily have existed without her involvement which would have tightened up the film and kept the focus on Solomon's quest to save his son.

Admittedly there are a few concessions to Hollywood convention which perhaps hurt the film slightly. Once Hounsou and DiCaprio form their uneasy alliance the film does take on the more classic (or clichéd if you prefer) approach of a formulaic thriller, while the potential romance that blooms between DiCaprio and Connelly never really convinces. However I do feel that both elements are explored to add depth to both the story and the characters. By putting Solomon and Archer side-by-side the film is able to examine the characters and provide the contrast between their priorities in life, and make us ask what is truly important in life. Both men are willing to put their lives on the line but for very different reasons. For Solomon all he cares about is his family and in particular the fate of his son. While for Archer it is about nothing but money. He himself admits that he has no friends, no family and not even a home to call his own; he believes that with enough money however he can sort out his life and be happy. While the romance of a sorts that develops with Connelly's character, and in combination with his growing relationship with Solomon, is what sends Archer on his path to redemption.

Some people will complain about situations and dialogue being too heavy-handed, manipulative and clichéd, and those complaints may have some merit. On the whole however I personally can forgive the film for this as I feel it certainly had its heart in the right place. And by approaching the film largely as a by-the-books thriller meant that the project was able to command a budget of $100 million, and that it was in turn able to attach the considerable name of DiCaprio. In doing so the film ensured a much wider audience for its message. The film eventually grossed $171 million at the box office; had the film gone for a more searing, purely dramatic take it's hard to imagine it doing similar business. And I certainly don't feel that the film glosses over the issues at any point; showing the situation for the horrific and heartbreaking event that it is, and ending on the sobering note of how 200,000 child soldiers still remain in Africa to this day. It retains this as its core and just builds the thriller mainframe around it, making it more digestible for mainstream audiences.

Conclusion - It's adherence to traditional Hollywood values may turn some people off but I think Blood Diamond focuses on an important story that needed to be told, and if this is the style in which it needed to be told then fair enough. It's classic thriller template opens it up to a larger audience who will be able to enjoy it as a purely thrilling experience, and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way. I found it to be a powerful film with some impressive direction and two exceptionally strong performances at its core.