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Rated 3.02 stars
by 1282 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Challenging and Entertaining
by Frank Wilkins

Blood Diamond reminded me that watching a movie helmed by Edward Zwick is always a confrontational experience. Whether dealing with the atrocities of the American civil war in Glory, or the fog of war in Courage Under Fire, Zwick finds some kind of sadistic pleasure in forcing us to explore our own internal gray areas of moral ambiguity. Then again, challenging the viewer is easy; challenging us while simultaneously providing an entertaining experience is the hard part. But that's exactly what Zwick does with this engrossing tale of the illegal diamond trade set in the chaotic backdrop of a civil war that enveloped 1990s Sierra Leone. It's part Romancing the Stone and part Heart of Darkness. But it's better than both.

Some might remember the horrific footage that trickled in via a few western news feeds during the 90s about the civil war raging in the western African country of Sierra Leone. The reports were only deemed important enough for us to hear because of the barbaric custom the rebels practiced of taking the future of their country out of the hands of voters. In other words, they carried out a systematic program of chopping off the hands of potential voters (including children) so that they wouldn't be able to participate in upcoming elections. That's the kind of tough subject matter we're dealing with in Blood Diamond. It's real, it's dangerous, it's visceral, and most importantly, there are consequences to watching this film. The easy thing to do is to turn your head.

Because the root of that country's struggles is far broader than what Zwick and screenwriter Charles Leavitt can even begin to show, they center their tale around three primary characters: Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary fighter turned diamond smuggler; Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a simple tribal fisherman looking to support his family; and Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an idealistic journalist attempting to bust a story on the truth behind "conflict diamonds" --  which refers to diamonds  smuggled out of countries at war.

The lives of these three individuals intersect when Solomon, who is separated from his family and forced to work in the diamond mines, finds an unusually large pink diamond (also called a blood diamond) and buries it for safekeeping. When Danny inadvertently learns of Solomon's diamond, he sees it as his ticket off the continent. Solomon uses the diamond as a means of bribing Danny to help him find his son, and Maddy just wants to photograph the whole ordeal for her report, one she hopes will open the world's eyes to the injustices within the diamond industry. All three are faced with tough moral decisions that draw them together while simultaneously driving them apart.

As compelling and as socially relevant as this story is, it's the acting that makes the picture soar. And at the top of the heap is DiCaprio with yet another masterful turn. His Archer emerges as an extremely complex character. He's mean, he's a shrewd businessman, and he's well trained in the military arts. Yet he's sensitive when he needs to be, especially when Connelly's Maddy enters the picture. DiCaprio firmly grasps all aspects of his character and shows us that everyone else is just along for the ride.

Hounsou holds his own with a character that, although a bit one-dimensional in scope, is critical to the film's success. His love for his missing son jumps off the screen and falls in our laps, particularly in one scene as he finally confronts his missing child. Hounsou gives us a great deal of insight into his character when he tells us, "Archer is pursuing a diamond, but Solomon's diamond is his son."

There's plenty of heavy message in Blood Diamond -- perhaps diamonds should be considered as repulsive as fur -- but Zwick's expert hand guides our focus to so many other aspects of his story, and we never feel manipulated or overtly influenced. Expert dialogue delivered by veteran actors with authentic sounding accents (although I'm not quite sure what accents they were) is finely dovetailed with gripping action and beautiful scenery photographed by Eduardo Serra.

As the credits rolled, I felt a bit relieved thinking that Sierra Leone's conflict didn't directly include the bloody hands of American involvement. Then, as I was reminded that Americans account for two-thirds of all diamonds purchased in the world, I realized I'd been challenged. After a quick glance at the clock told me what seemed like only thirty minutes was actually a 2 1/2 hour runtime, I also realized I'd been entertained.

(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated R for strong violence and language.)

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