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Here we have Hollywood’s newest addition to the agenda driven film, trying to get people’s attention to the plight of Africa. The trailers had me intrigued, but the press stemmed much of that anticipation as most I heard talked about how preachy the movie was, with its only concern being to show Americans the death and destruction that went into their precious engagement ring. I am a big fan of the three principal actors, however, and I tried to leave all the critic’s words home when going out to see Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond. Thankfully I did, because if I listened to the hype, while some being true about its’ purposes, I would have missed one of the best directed and acted films of the year.

Similar to last year’s The Constant Gardener, Zwick has given us a story about family and sacrifice to mask the underlying theme of exposing the inhumane activities going on inside, in this case, Sierra Leone. While I felt the former film succeeded immensely in veiling its true purpose with a heart-wrenchingly emotional tale of love and faith, the latter tries to do the same, but at certain moments fails. Between the middle of the film, when the main characters discuss what they know about diamond smuggling—all generalities they both know already but speak aloud for the sake of letting us the audience in on the atrocities—and the tacked on epilogue—which subverts much of the beauty the final scenes before it brought, and serves as what looks like just a means to get Michael Sheen some dialogue—I did find myself shaking my head at how heavy-handed the film was at times. I think these moments stuck out most because the rest of the film, the telling of Solomon Vandy’s search for his refugee family, was so effective that it overshadowed all the message delivery devices. You really feel for the plight of Vandy and for both Maddy Bowen and Danny Archer as they try to put their professional lives on hold long enough to try and do good for their new friend and for themselves.

Leonardo DiCaprio, as Archer, continues to get better and better with each role he gets. An actor that has always impressed me, much of his past work, while effective, has given off an air of boy in man’s shoes. DiCaprio looks younger than most characters that he portrays and as a result comes off as unbelievable no matter how well he encompasses the role. An example of this would be The Departed from earlier this year. True I have Tony Leung’s spectacular performance in the original film to compare it to, but Leo just seems out of his element at times, not quite yet realistic as a seasoned tough guy. His portrayal of Danny Archer, however, blows the doors off that generality because he truly embodies this character and feels like the 31 year old that has served in the military, been kicked around for years, and recently held in prison for smuggling. Between his first scene trying to see the main guy in charge to sell his guns and the powerful speech with Vandy about baboon hunting among other things, I was completely riveted by the job he did. Also, the accent stays solid throughout and seems natural enough to suspend disbelief that this is an American playing an Afrikaner.

There must also be mention of the two other leads that successfully embody their roles. Jennifer Connelly is always solid and one of the best character women working in Hollywood today. Her facially expressions and body language are perfect as the strong reporter looking for the story to break the blood diamond case wide open. I credit Zwick as well for his directing the relationship between her and Archer. The sexual tension is there as well as the comradery needed between them. Their characters never break from who they are in order to enjoy a quick tryst amongst the carnage, they are totally creatures of their past. Our third lead, Djimon Hounsou, carries the emotional barometer here as he usually does. Like DiCaprio, Hounsou continues to grow as an actor and is steadily becoming one of the best in the business. After his debut in Amistad, without yet really knowing English, he had his true breakthrough in In America. He is so real and true in his performances, that you cannot help but pull for him to get through all that the world throws at him.

It is true that the moments of preaching took a little away from the film and at times halted the brisk pace in order to give exposition into the diamond trade; exposition that is ultimately unnecessary in the larger story being told. The film is about civil war and three people caught up in the middle of it trying to find a way out that serves each of their needs. It is their survival that the audience gets caught up in, and not the reason the war started in the first place. Zwick shows a deft hand at filming wartime explosions and chaos. I have not yet seen Glory, but there are many moments here that bring to mind his last film, The Last Samurai. Besides the jarring camerawork and brutality that he is unafraid to show, there is also a parallel arc between our hero there and of Danny Archer here. Both films are about a man who has endured a tough life and learned to build a wall around his heart. As a character in Blood Diamond says though, all men may or may not be evil or good, however, they are all people. It may only take one moment to finally live the life they have always wanted, and the path to that moment doesn’t always end up being nice.

Blood Diamond 8/10

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photography:
[1] LEONARDO DiCAPRIO stars as Danny Archer and JENNIFER CONNELLY stars as Maddy Bowen in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Virtual Studios’ action drama ‘Blood Diamond,’ distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Jaap Buitendijk
[2] LEONARDO DiCAPRIO stars as Danny Archer and DJIMON HOUNSOU stars as Solomon Vandy in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Virtual Studios’ action drama ‘Blood Diamond,’ distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Jaap Buitendijk

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