Blood Diamond

When the movie has “blood” right in the title, you know you’ll be seeing a lot of the stuff. Trust me, the film doesn’t disappoint in that respect. Conversely, you don’t actually see a lot of diamonds, though they’re the driving force behind everything.

When the movie has “blood” right in the title, you know you’ll be seeing a lot of the stuff. Trust me, the film doesn’t disappoint in that respect. Conversely, you don’t actually see a lot of diamonds, though they’re the driving force behind everything.

I’d heard that the diamond industry was upset about the film, claiming it might slow their sales for the holiday season, though I thought they were overreacting. It would take an awful lot to stop the Conspicuous Consumers of America from buying their flashy jewelry, after all. Now, though, I see what they were talking about. By movie’s end, the sight of a glittering jewelry store display featuring a large yellow diamond necklace kinda turned my stomach. Fortunately for the gem industry, I’m not really in their target market, but I have to admit they weren’t overreacting. Still, they have done a lot to try and prevent the sale of conflict diamonds in recent years (the film is set back in 1999), so would-be diamond buyers can go ahead, cautiously — as the movie’s end message says, it’s up to the consumer to insist on conflict-free diamonds.

I was a little leery of seeing this movie at first, mainly because of Leonardo DiCaprio. Frankly, I’m still annoyed with him for the whopping two hours and fifty minutes of my life that I wasted on The Aviator. (No, I don’t care how many awards it won, it’s still an agonizingly slow and largely pointless film.) However, since I do like Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou, I decided to take the chance. And I actually didn’t mind Leo here; perhaps because his character wasn’t meant to be especially likeable.

Djimon is fisherman Solomon Vandy, whose village in Sierra Leone is destroyed by rebels in the most disturbing opening sequence I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan. Torn from his family, he’s made to work at diamond prospecting so the rebels can finance more guns for their revolution. (It looked to me like they had more than enough guns and ammunition, since no one ever ran out of either, but then, I’m no rebel leader.) He finds a large pink diamond and manages to hide it from his captors, and that’s where everything starts to get even more violent.

Enter Leo, as diamond smuggler Danny Archer, who ends up joining forces with Solomon and Jennifer (reporter Maddy Bowen) to try to get the diamond. For Leo, it’s the score he needs to square him with his boss, Colonel Coetzee, (played by Arnold Vosloo of The Mummy fame) and get himself out of Africa. Jennifer’s trying to get the facts she needs to uncover the infamous conflict diamond network that finances so much of Africa’s fighting. And Solomon just wants the diamond as leverage to get his family back. Throw in the feuding government and rebel forces of the area, plus Coetzee’s troops, who look as well-funded and supplied as any U.S. battalion, and you’ve got all the blood you need to live up to the title.

A little net searching tells me that loose certified pink diamonds of one carat start at around $75,000 dollars. One particularly fine specimen, cut to 6.11 carats, was listed at $600,000. The diamond in the movie was supposedly somewhere around 100 carats, so you can get an idea of what all the excitement was about. (I’ve never understood why more diamond cutters don’t go violently insane under the pressure.)

It’s obviously an intense film. It isn’t for the faint of heart by any means — there are shots of men losing hands to machetes, and I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the images of boys as young as eight or nine casually firing machine guns into crowds of helpless villagers. Kagiso Kuypers, playing Solomon’s son Dia, does an excellent job portraying the brainwashing he suffers as the rebels who have captured him try to make him into a killing machine; and such child soldiers are still found in Africa. So it’s no surprise that I left the theatre reeling a little under the weight of it all.

The film has its flaws, but they’re mostly not too visible to the naked eye. There aren’t any real surprises, but for the most part, you’re just glad to enjoy the ride. Leo keeps up his accent beautifully (unlike in Gangs of New York), and manages to avoid the usual sappiness of the self-centered cad suddenly seeing the light at movie’s end. Jennifer does a lot with a somewhat limited role, and is in many ways the character who grounds the film and keeps it in the real world. And Djimon’s struggle to keep his own morality and humanity while fighting to reclaim his family is both moving and terrifying. The nature of the film doesn’t allow too much chance for deeper insight into the people and forces behind the blood diamonds, but overall, its message is both powerful and much more real than most care to admit.

I give this movie four and a quarter idols out of five. Just remember that when they say “rated R for strong violence and language”, they really, really mean it.

Note: This is the review that started it all, and the movie that made me stop hating Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m still a little annoyed about the movie about that big ship sinking, but I can deal. Note that this review is so old that it originally lacked a picture. I’ve added one since reviews now look naked to me without an image attached.