Blood Diamond is a fictional story set against the real world civil war that took place in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. It focuses on the lives of three individuals – a war journalist, a diamond smuggler and a local fisherman – as each of them struggle to survive and make sense of the brutal landscape around them.
The title of the film refers to diamonds that are mined and then exported in order to fund civil war in the countries from which they originate. These diamonds are associated with death and blood from the day they are discovered (people are enslaved en mass to find them) to the day they are sold (when more weapons for the war are purchased), hence their name.
When Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is violently separated from his family and enslaved by rebels from the Revolutionary United Front his peaceful existence as a fisherman is destroyed. Forced to work in a Sierra Leone diamond mine he thinks of only one thing; getting his family back. When he discovers a rare, pink diamond the size of a bird’s egg he realises that it might be the only thing that will provide him with the leverage needed to do that. Unfortunately, before Solomon can use the stone, he is arrested by the government, but not before hiding it safely. In jail, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary and diamond smuggler, learns of Solomon’s discovery and promises to help him find his family in exchange for it. Hesitantly, Solomon agrees and both men form an uneasy alliance centred on the pink diamond but with each individually driven by different motives. Setting out on their journey they are joined by a war news reporter, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), who becomes Archer’s conscious and Solomon’s guardian angel.
Blood Diamond is a film at conflict with itself. On the one hand it wants to be an enjoyable and entertaining film experience while on the other it tries to be a message movie, hoping to create awareness around conflict diamonds and the atrocities that took place in Sierra Leone. I’m not saying entertainment and awareness can’t work effectively alongside each other – entertainment certainly helps to draw an audience in – but at some point a decision has to be made concerning what the film needs or wants to be. Blood Diamond never makes the choice concerning whether it is an action movie or an awareness film. Trying to be both weakens each genre/style respectively and the film as a whole.
The result? When the film ends and a title card comes up giving us some shocking information about the real events that inspired the film it feels tacked on. Coming across as an after-thought rather than a vital piece of information because the seriousness of the issue has been lost in (or glossed over by) its mainstream Hollywood approach. This makes the film an awkward creature because one minute you have kids blowing away their parents – highlighting the terrible environment of Sierra Leone – while in another Archer’s heroics, while fun to watch, are too stylised; smoothing over the harsh reality the film is trying to show.
The three-character approach to the narrative, that scriptwriter Charles Leavitt has chosen to use in the screenplay, is effective because it highlights, in a micro to macrocosmic manner, the problems that Sierra Leone has had to deal with. It is a land at war with itself not only as a result of conflict diamonds but also because there are numerous parties at work with varying agendas, each pulling in a different direction. The relationship between Simon, Maddy and Danny highlights this extremely well.
I can’t help but feel, however, that the focus on Connelly and (largely) DiCaprio’s characters weakens Simon’s own story because he is portrayed as being utterly helpless, requiring assistance from both. This portrayal is possibly sound because of the environment he finds himself in but there came a time when I just wanted him to take bigger steps to getting his family back instead of being led like a puppy all the way through. This has led to much criticism that the film once again represents black Africans as powerless and ineffective, in need of a white hero, such as DiCaprio’s Danny, to resolve their woes. Djimon Hounsou, nevertheless, gives, in my opinion, the best performance in this film.
Negatives aside, Blood Diamond is an enjoyable but brutal watch. It may not work in the manner that Edward Zwick was hoping but you certainly get bang for your buck, with intensely vivid scenes of violence and action that many will find disturbing. Children killing people, limbs being hacked off, wild car chases and that sort of thing.
DiCaprio’s performance is nothing stellar (he had more chance with his golden globe nomination for The Departed) but I must commend him on his accent. Playing a man from southern Africa – in this case Zimbabwe – his accent may not be a hundred percent correct, and it does fluctuate in areas, but he does a great job of holding it down and getting into the twang (lookout for the scene where he calls a soldier a ‘doos’), if you will. Danny Archer is however a character I did not care for much because he is a blend of Afrikaans stereotype and apartheid story that I have seen a million times before.
Blood Diamond is engaging, but too long, and tries too hard to be something it is not, in this case a message movie. If it had been more focused on the people of Sierra Leone and their hardships, rather than a white man and his misfortune, it might have succeeded. It is simply another Hollywood action blockbuster and little else.