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BLOOD DIAMOND(director: Edward Zwick; screenwriters: Charles Leavitt/based on a story by Mr. Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell; cinematographer: Eduardo Serra; editor: Steven Rosenblum; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Danny Archer), Jennifer Connelly (Maddy Bowen), Djimon Hounsou (Solomon Vandy), Michael Sheen (Simmons), Arnold Vosloo (the Colonel), Kagiso Kuypers (Dia), David Harewood (Captain Poison), Basil Wallace (Benjamin), Ntare Mwine (M’ed); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Mr. Zwick/Marshall Herskovitz/Paula Weinstein/Graham King/Gillian Gorfil; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2006)
“Never quite overcomes its mindless blockbuster mentality.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edward Zwick (“Glory”/”Leaving Normal”/”The Siege”) directs a problematic thriller that left enough on the table to be cheered for its effort in recognizing that things are not right in Africa, but the well-intentioned action flick never quite overcomes its mindless blockbuster mentality and with being so sanctimoniously liberal. Charles Leavitt’s story and screenplay serves up a bleak reminder of a bloody modern Africa that’s torn between genocidal forced-child soldiers of the rebels and diamond smugglers exploiting the natural resources of that continent. It involves conflict diamonds, which are illicitly mined stones smuggled out of the country that have been used to finance blood-soaked wars in Africa by those ruthless militaristic types who will stop at nothing to get their hands on these stones and fence them off to so-called legit buyers in America.

The film’s best asset is a terrific performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as a soldier of fortune and hard-assed diamond smuggler named Danny Archer, who is Rhodesian-born (now called Zimbabwean by the rest of the world, but still referred to him as Rhodesia); he was orphaned during that country’s violent upheaval in the 1970s and the thirtysomething warrior is left without a country, home or family. The cynical Danny is of the philosophy that looking out for number one is his best way to survive his hard life and that scoring a pink diamond (the big one) is his ticket out of Africa.

The tale picks up steam in 1999 where the unscrupulous Danny is crossing the border of an unstable Sierra Leone, still reeling from its long and bloody civil war, with a stash of stolen diamonds hidden under the ears of some goats. He’s jailed by the border patrol after failing to bribe them, and while in the slammer hears of a precious pink diamond stolen and hidden by a fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) who was forced by the rebel army to be a miner when his village was raided. Danny arranges for his friends to buy both him and Solomon out of the corrupt prison, and goes with the humble and noble native black man back to his remote Sierra Leone village where he hopes to use the diamond to reunite with his missing wife and three children. On the way, Danny runs into a pretentious idealistic American magazine journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), looking for a hot story on the blood-diamond trade and the two become guarded allies after a shaky start. She feels relieved after tossing a schoolmarm lecture Danny’s way about him being an exploiter and he feels better about his scummy self when she offers him a chance for redemption to help the saintly Solomon.

It points out the tragedy of Sierra Leone during the time America was fixated on Clinton’s blowjob, as it demonizes the rebel forces (the R.U.F.), who have a forced child army, have a villainous Captain Poison (David Harewood) run a slave mining operation, and are ruthless butchers who chop off the arms of villagers, while also telling of the government forces and their ruthless mercenary army led by the Colonel (Arnold Vosloo) who are also primarily interested in the diamonds above the native population; it lays a large chunk of the blame for these events on Americans for being such avid consumers of diamonds (and that the diamond trade is basically controlled by one corporation here fictitiously called Van de Kaap but in reality the monopolist South African De Beers corporation).

The film’s major problem is that the serious side of the story gets trampled by the usual vacuous action heroics in such pics. This just made it too difficult for me to grok the film’s message (which might be simply not to buy conflicted diamonds!!!) as something that important when it seemed that the filmmaker is more than glad to drop the serious intentions in favor of the usual commercial workings of pulp. The two opposing sides of the film never quite jelled, as a result it goes under the bus as both socko entertainment and as a heady political attempt–but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its intelligent moments and that Leo’s brilliant performance (his most mature and best one to date) doesn’t almost pull it off and make it easy for us to swallow the film’s patchy history lesson in one large gulp of astonishment.

REVIEWED ON 10/10/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”