USA today - Devember7, 2006


'Blood Diamond' shines forth

by Claudia Puig


Blood Diamond is a gem in a season with lots of worthy movies.

Set during the late 1990s during the civil war in Sierra Leone, it is equally captivating as an action film and a sociopolitical drama. In the way that it melds those genres and weaves a romance into the mix, it is reminiscent of last year's brilliant The Constant Gardener.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a South African mercenary and diamond smuggler. It is his finest role in an impressive career, better even than his recent excellent turn as a Boston cop in The Departed. It is also the first time the boyish actor has truly seemed like a man on film. His accent is spot-on, and his surly character is more complex than is initially apparent.

A parallel story involves a powerful performance by Djimon Hounsou (In America) as a fisherman who is separated from his family and enslaved by rebel forces terrorizing his village. While forced to work in the diamond mines of Sierra Leone, he comes across a large pink diamond.

Sensing its value, he buries it, risking death if he's discovered. DiCaprio and Hounsou both end up in prison, and DiCaprio overhears someone talking about Hounsou's find. He contacts his buyers, pays Hounsou's bail and persuades the distraught fisherman to accompany him on a journey to reveal where the diamond is hidden.

Hounsou agrees to show DiCaprio where he stashed the diamond in exchange for finding his family.

Along the way the horrors of the chaotic and brutal civil war are revealed. Soldiers recruit children to perform hideously violent acts and drug them to keep them mollified. The film posits the idea that whenever a valuable natural resource has been discovered in an African nation (such as oil, gold, ivory or diamonds) the country itself rarely profits. The standard of living of its citizens is rarely improved. Instead, strife reigns and the spoils go to corrupt, affluent businesspeople in Europe or the USA.

The film also has an American presence in the form of Jennifer Connelly, an idealistic journalist looking to write a story exposing the diamond smuggling industry. She makes a deal with DiCaprio to provide key information and eventually falls for him.

Though the scenes of flying bullets and widespread carnage are shattering (especially at the hands of children), the violence in the course of a real-life war is organic and necessary. The varied African landscape is depicted with breathtaking beauty, as directed by Ed Zwick (Glory).

With its expansive scope and epic feel, Blood Diamond is a taut action-adventure saga that is also thought-provoking.