Friday, March 2, 2007

Blood Diamond

It's the beginning of March, and you all know what that means: I'm going to start posting like a madman. This review is actually going to be fairly lengthy, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to keep that streak going for very long this month.

Before I get started on the actual movie itself, I must preface it with a couple of things.
1. When I first saw the trailer for Blood Diamond, I swore to myself that I wouldn't see it because of DiCaprio's accent. (I'll get to my thoughts on that in the actual review section.)
2. I'm not usually a fan of exploitation films (unless it's blatantly so, as is the case for the upcoming Grindhouse, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino), but the other guys were going to see David Fincher's Zodiac and I had absolutely no interest in seeing that. Plus, I found out that this movie wasn't necessarily an exploitation film per se: it had a lot more plot to it than I predicted.

Director Edward Zwick has a couple of good films in his repertoire; the most notable of these are Glory and The Last Samurai. His complete filmography is here, if you're interested. I'm not going to talk too much about him, since I know little to nothing about the guy and I've only seen four of his films. I will say that I thought he did a really good job with Blood Diamond, although in hindsight nearly anyone with any kind of directorial competence could have churned out just as fine a product. Zwick doesn't have any sort of stand-out style that I noticed, which I guess is good because you aren't always looking for the little nuances of the director's films (cameos, flashbacks, doves, etc) while you are watching the film. He let the script and, more importantly, the cast, do the talking for him.

The movie takes place in Sierra Leone in 1999, where civil war has broken out and the illegal diamond trade is in full swing. When Solomon Vandy's (played by Djimon Hounsou - yes, the guy from Amistad and Beauty Shop) family is taken from him and his village burned to the ground by rebels, he must rely on diamond smuggler Danny Archer (DiCaprio) to get them back. Also thrown into the mix is a reporter (Jennifer Connelly) searching for a story that will finally shed light on the injustices being done to the people of Africa merely to keep the market price of diamonds high.

I can't go any further without saying it: Leonardo DiCaprio is dangerously close to becoming my favorite actor. If he keeps taking roles like this one, which he played excellently, and characters like the ones he depicted in The Departed and Catch Me If You Can, he'll be at the top of my list before you can say "Gangs of New York." Without a doubt, he 100% deserved the nomination for Best Actor for his performance in this film. OK - man love for DiCaprio aside, there were other actors in this thing also. Djimon Hounsou did a good job, although I'd like to see him in some more versatile roles than just the crying, angry black man (he was cool as the mercenary in The Island). Jen Connelly was nowhere near her hotness-peak that she hit in 1991's The Rocketeer (see below for gratuitous picture), but she was pretty smokin' nonetheless and actually pulled off playing a character other than a victim for once. Arnold Vosloo, who you would know as the titular character from The Mummy franchise, played a small part as well. I'm not going to lie, he wasn't fantastic - I just wanted to type "Arnold Vosloo."

(Connelly, circa '91. What a hottie.)

Ideologically speaking, Blood Diamond had a lot to say. The film posed a lot of questions to the audience, but the most prominent was undoubtedly "How caught up in consumerism are you willing to get before you stop and think about the consequences?" It was one of those films that kind of made you ashamed to be wearing your bling when you walked out of the theater. Granted, I'm sure the filmmakers sensationalized the situation to some degree, but with the current crisis in Darfur and other African countries today, we know that some of it has to be accurate. There were a couple of lines specifically intended for the purpose of letting us think about what's going on in the world, such as when Connelly's character walked up to a refugee camp and said "This is what a million people looks like. This is the second largest refugee camp in Africa. You might see a clip or two of it on the news, in between sports and weather." There were a lot of family themed tie-ins as well, due to the story paralleling DiCaprio going after a huge 100 carat diamond and Hounsou trying to get his family back.

(Warning: Spoilers ahoy, mateys. If you haven't seen the film, skip down to the next paragraph.)

Something that particularly stood out to me was the dichotomy of the bird and the airplane. Hounsou's character, a native African and therefore a simpler man than the slick, monetarily concerned DiCaprio, looked up at one point and noticed a hawk flying overhead. This symbolized the strength and tradition of family for him, and served as a beacon to help him press on towards his family. DiCaprio, at a different time, saw an airplane in the sky. This served as a mechanical, materialistic reminder of why he was going after the diamond in the first place: to escape the war-torn land of Africa and get rich from other people's suffering. When the two men reached the top of the cliff after procuring Hounsou's son from the rebel side (which was very reminiscent of Hook and Peter Pan regaining his son's trust from the pirates), the plane returned to pick up the three and take them to their destination. Unfortunately, DiCaprio doesn't make it on the plane, but he makes a conscious decision to give up the diamond, help Connelly bring the truth to the world, and hold off the rebel forces while Hounsou and his son make it aboard the plane. All this you could see coming from a mile away, but it was still a cool image to have DiCaprio's character make his uplifting, morally conscious, "right" decision literally at the top of a mountain. Sweat and Campbell would be proud.

(End of spoilers.)

Blood Diamond
was a pretty stellar flick. I'm sure it won't be in theaters for much longer, but if you can get out there and check it out, it's worth it. There are a bunch of really gorgeous sweeping shots of the jungle, the mountains, and the desert in it, so even if you don't care for the film, it's aesthetically pleasing. The only other potential downer is that the movie is about 2 and 1/2 hours long, but it did a fantastic job with suspension of disbelief, so it wasn't as bad as many of the other 2 and 1/2 hour films I've seen recently. Give it a shot. If nothing else, see it for DiCaprio's performance. Until next time...

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