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A great character film with two excellent performances.
Since there is very little in the negative column, let me disperse with it first: 'Blood Diamond' might fairly be accused of 'bleeding heart syndrome' (more on that in a bit), has a few minor pacing issues and seems unsure with how to end. The ending that they chose extends the film too far, seems forced and is tacked on. The more natural ending is on the mountainside -- you'll know what I mean when you see it. Those things said, the positives are much greater and this film showcased two towering performances. Djimon Hounsou is nothing short of incredible and I'd be astonished if he isn't considered at Oscar time. Secondly, although I've had little patience for him before, Leonardo DiCaprio has really impressed me this year. With his performances in 'The Departed' and now 'Blood Diamond,' I think I need to reappraise my own biases against him. I'm becoming a fan.
Some of the early reviews that I read painted 'Blood Diamond' as hysterical left-winger cause-head paradise. They suggest that the conflict diamond situation has been exaggerated and completely distorted. I don't know if that is the case. The film makes a compelling case but I don't base my political and economic decisions on films that I watch. My interest here was to see how characters would respond to adversity and a terrible, horrifyingly dark situation. The political agenda of the film isn't as cloyingly bombastic as I was afraid it might be. This is a film that, while concerned with the political situation in Africa, focuses more on how the obsessive search for a large, rare pink diamond consumes those who get too close to it.
DiCaprio is excellent as a Rhodesian (HIS description) mercenary and arms dealer working in Sierra Leone. Hounsou is a fisherman who gets drawn into the civil war raging around him and discovers a pink diamond that could save -- or destroy -- both he and his family. Jennifer Connelly plays a journalist trying to discover if a huge multi-national diamond company is knowingly in the market for conflict diamonds. Jennifer Connelly seems to get the worst of the dialogue. When told that Americans are in part to blame for conflict diamonds she responds with a line about 'not all girls want a fantasy wedding.' It makes her look naive at best and silly at worst. She generally manages to save the character from either of those fates though and also manages to avoid self-righteousness when dealing with some of the films more morally flexible characters. Hounsou is great and the desperation in his character as he tries to find his family crackles on the screen. He is cagey and understands what he needs to do to survive. His character is not above playing servile if that will keep him alive. And when provoked to violence, the result was absolutely chilling. In much smaller roles are Arnold Vosloo as a mercenary Colonel, Stephen Collins as a diplomat and Michael Sheen as an executive at a diamond company. Excellent performances all around.
Is 'Blood Diamond' judgemental? I think that is the wrong question. The film is a character study both of all the men pursuing the pink diamond and what effect it has on them, but it is also a character study of Africa. Tragic and heartsick, 'Blood Diamond' is drenched with cynicism and defeatism. Why is there misery and exploitation? "TIA," explains DiCaprio to Connelly, "This Is Africa." In contrast to a film like 'Traffic,' 'Blood Diamond' doesn't wallow in hopelessness. Some of the characters might be cynical but the film itself does search for hope. The heart of the picture is the human cost. Characters see the wealth of the diamond and are destroyed by it. The film shares a great deal thematically with a film like 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre.' High praise for a high quality film.
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