Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Reel To Reel: Blood Diamond

A girl's best friend comes at a heckuva price.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Intense War Violence, Language

Blood Diamond will likely not guilt-trip your future bride into giving up dreams of a huge engagement ring, so forget using this as a date movie, gentlemen. In fact, your steady could develop a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio instead, and then you've got a bigger problem.

Levity aside, Blood Diamond plunges into Sierra Leone in 1998, mired in poverty and plagued by rebels who get their funding via "conflict diamonds:" precious stones obtained by slave labor and then sold to unscrupulous gem buyers who launder them like drug money. Danny Archer (DiCaprio) is a smuggler working for those buyers, an ex-soldier who grew up in Africa amongst bloody revolution and has seen the worst. His current line of work involves trading diamonds for cash or guns which he funnels to the higest bidder.

Archer has no loyalties and trusts no one but himself since everybody around him is either trying to make money or kill somebody else, and even the rebels aren't sure if they want to win the war they're fighting because they might actually have to inherit the socio-economic quagmire. "T.I.A.," Archer and his friends say. "This is Africa."

DiCaprio's character is after a huge diamond buried by African native Solomon Vandy (Hounsou) after a smuggling operation goes sideways and leaves him on the hook for a lot of money. Vandy is a poor fisherman trying to steer his children clear of poverty and violence. His young son wants to stay in school and become a doctor. Too bad the rebels don't have an ounce of respect for the people they supposedly are trying to help. They have stormed Solomon's village, sent him off to the diamond mine, and sent his son into the ranks of the rebels to become a child soldier. Solomon manages to escape, but he needs help finding his family. Archer offers that help if Solomon will help him find the buried treasure.

Both of them get help from Maddy Bowen (Connelly), a frustrated American journalist who knows a dirty diamond operation is going on but can't prove it. She needs Archer's inside knowlege and contacts to write a story beyond the Save The Children stories of impoverished young ones and weeping mothers. Archer isn't about to give up anything, especially to another idealist who probably won't end up changing anything. Still, the two of them develop a mutual friendship. Bowen needs information, and Archer needs redemption.

Blood Diamond interlocks several themes: the horrors of war, the ugliness behind beauty, the importance of family, the indifference of others, and good ol' fashioned greed. It is genuine in its rawness and yet emotionally nuanced, even in the sad scenes of rebels training captured young children as soldiers. Hounsou is right on his mark as the prototypical good father without stepping over the line into Father of the Year territory. I especially laud the film for not throwing Bowen and Archer into the sack, especially when both of them are too busy staying alive and focused on their respective goals.

The film could have ended ten minutes before it did. Without revealing the ending, I'm certain some Hollywood suit demanded the last scenes, if only to balance the movie's graphic violence and depression. We don't need Hollywood endings. This is Africa.

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