Seattle P-I, December 7, 2006
'Blood Diamond' is a multicarat message movie
by William Arnold
Edward Zwick is one of the few Hollywood directors of the past two decades whose name has come to stand not just for quality but for
a specific kind of movie: an ambitious, issue-oriented, historical epic ("Glory," "Courage Under Fire," "The Last Samurai").
His new film, "Blood Diamond," is very much in this tradition. It's an adventure set in the 1999 Sierra Leone civil war that's out
to educate its audience about two specific aspects of the enduring horror of modern Africa: child soldiers and conflict diamonds.
It has its share of flaws (perhaps as much as any Zwick film since 1994's "Legends of the Fall") but it still comes together to be a
gut-wrenching, eye-filling and ultimately moving spectacle, as well as a strong star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio.
It's the story of a noble African fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) who survives a rebel massacre of his village and is sent to work as a
slave in a remote diamond-mining camp, where he finds -- and manages to hide -- a pink diamond the size of a bird's egg.
He's soon rescued by government troops, but he was seen hiding the gem. And when he's taken to the capital, Freetown, word of the
discovery reaches a white Zimbabwean smuggler and mercenary (Leonardo DiCaprio), who sees the stone as his ticket off the Dark
From here, the movie becomes a complex, episodic tale of how the mercenary gradually wins the confidence of the fisherman -- whose
only thought is of rescuing his family -- and takes him on a perilous journey back through the war zone to recover the priceless
In the process, the movie rubs our faces in violence, actually outdoing such recent films as "Beyond Borders," "Hotel Rwanda," "The
Constant Gardener" and "The Last King of Scotland" in portraying Africa as a scary, apocalyptic hell on earth.
Like last year's "The Interpreter," it also dares to have a white African protagonist, and makes a similar point that apartheid and
colonialism are long gone from Africa, and the horror consuming it now stems mostly from tribal rivalries and its own indigenous
It's very much a "message" movie, with many scenes showing us how children are doped and brainwashed into being the cannon fodder of
Africa's civil wars; and a subplot about how the First World's thirst for diamonds and other natural resources is feeding these
This is all a lot for one movie to do -- especially one that's also wants to be "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" -- and it might
have been better if Zwick had dropped a few massacres and spent more time developing his secondary characters and making his
transitions more credible.
Even so, "Blood Diamond" mostly does its job: Zwick's narrative skills keep us hooked on the story, and the first-rate production
values and imaginative use of locations (it was shot in Mozambique) give the film an enthralling scope and epic sweep.
And the movie is fueled by DiCaprio's intensity and believability. There's not a false syllable in his South African accent, and
hardly a moment when he doesn't convey a warped upbringing and poignant love/hate relationship with his home continent.
The performance is not likable enough to be an Oscar contender. But even more than "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator," it
demonstrates that he's acquired his hero Robert De Niro's special gift for turning an unsympathetic character into a profoundly