dir: Edward Zwick
Ah, Africa. The current red-headed stepchild of Hollywood’s favour and heartfelt concern. The unsolvable mess, the venue of all the Western world’s exploitation, the vista of eternal desert, savannah, elephants and children carrying AK-47s.
Of the last few years I can think of: Hotel Rwanda, The Interpreter, Constant Gardener, Tsotsi, The White Masai, Stander, Sahara, Lord of War, Wah Wah, and plenty more, all set on this magical, blood-soaked continent. Okay, maybe including Tsotsi is cheating, since it’s actually a South African film, but at the very least there seems to be a clear pattern of favouritism going on here.
Well, despite having watched this flick an age ago, it appears to be still playing, at least for the next week, in some Australian cinemas. It could be because of all the promotion for it because of the numerous Oscar nominations for it, none of which it won. The biggest mistake was having DiCaprio nominated for his role here instead of in The Departed, for which he should have won. All the same, the flick will probably disappear now that the awards have been doled out like candy from inside a stranger’s car. Also, As I consider it my duty to keep those hold outs who may consider trundling along to see this in its final days from the cinemas in droves.
And, if nothing else, I’m a stickler for duty.
Blood Diamond is a reasonable flick, with an okay, probably very good performance and rollercoaster-ride Rhodesian accent by Leonardo DiCaprio as the flick’s anti-hero Danny Archer. And is does a reasonable job of illuminating for us, the lazy Western slobs who know nothing and care nothing for the outside world unless it is the subject of a major Hollywood film with famous actors, the plight of the African peoples whose lives are torn apart by the diamond trade. But, good goddamn, does this flick have a stupid script.
Danny Archer is an ex-military mercenary (in both senses of the word) in the employ of ruthless diamond monopolisers Van De Kaap, which is a poorly concealed reference to the real diamond monopolisers De Beers. He is ruthless, racist and singularly committed to his goal of tracking down a very large diamond in order to get the hell out of a place he is sick of, being Africa.
Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hansou) is a poor fisherman in Sierra Leone whose simple life is turned upside when the RUF rebel fighters, who are really just armed thugs, some of whom are too young to have grown a pube, start massacring his village and force him to work mining diamonds. Things get even better when his son Dia (Kagiso Kuypers) is forcibly recruited into the RUF, and when he finds a diamond the size of a child’s fist.
What Solomon wants is his family reunited and safe. What Danny wants is the diamond at any cost, especially if it involves killing the people around him. He has no personal interest in Solomon’s plight or life; he sees him merely as a means to an end. And that end is finding the location of a diamond worth many millions.
After being busted trying to smuggle diamonds into Liberia, Danny’s path crosses with Solomon in jail where he hears of this magical maguffin. And therein lies the start of a beautiful friendship.
The civil war in Sierra Leone (the flick is set in 1999) has government forces indiscriminately killing anyone who seems to be walking around, and rebel forces killing people for kicks. So it doesn’t seem to be the nicest place in the world to be trying to either save your family or make a living.
The rebels are, from what I could work out, drugged up pre-pubescents trained to kill or rape anything that moves. Their commanders, the guys handing them the Kalashnikov rifles, are usually adults who know how to operant condition these guys into true Pavlov’s dog-style killers. This portion of the film is quite chilling, because the image of kids killing and holding these rifles that are bigger than themselves is quite common in the real world’s media as well. Seeing how they become cold-eyed killers at an age where they should be discovering the joys of comic books or the wonders of boobies in magazines, whilst glib, is nonetheless tragic.
The film takes the long way around to get to its point, though, unironically, it tells us the point of the film exactly at the start, then pounds home the point until the end, where it again tells us what the point was: that the exploitation of Africa’s resources by the rest of the world is the main source of misery for the people trying to live there.
You see, these civil wars in Africa are fuelled by the diamond trade. They’re over the extraction of diamonds, the selling of diamonds, and funded by diamonds. Where civil wars occur and diamonds exist, they are referred to as conflict or blood diamonds, and there is an international ban on their mining and sale. Of course, the evil diamond company Van Der Kaap doesn’t want those diamonds to go to waste or to get into circulation, so it circumvents international treaties and hides the diamonds keeping supply artificially low and prices artificially high.
When the lectures are happening, the film is duller than dull. When a journalist character is wedged into the storyline in order to lecture the protagonist about his wicked ways, in the form of American photojournalist Maddy (Jennifer Connelly), the film is downright painful. When Danny is standing still and talking or shooting people, or running around and talking to or shooting people, the film is entertaining and interesting. I never expected myself to say something like this, but this overly long film would have benefited from less chatter and more splatter. And more editing.
Danny’s ruthlessness is well represented in word and deed, and he’s an interesting, if unsympathetic character to spend time with. The same cannot be said of either the journalist character or Solomon.
Djimon Hansou certainly inhabits the role, in that he’s an African playing an African, but is asked to do and say some pretty stupid things. Not once, not twice but thrice the script requires him to act like a complete idiot to further the plot. And since this isn’t a comedy, it points to lazy writing.
The most idiotic section involves Solomon, eager to be reunited with his son, walking into a group of rebels, whom he’s previously seen raping, killing and mutilating his fellow villagers, as if he’s forgotten what they’re likely response would be. It was a moment breathtaking in its stupidity. I appreciate the impulse they’re trying to represent: that a father’s love for his child means he would sacrifice anything including himself to save him, but it has the effect of making you think one of the main characters, and the one we’re supposed to relate to or at least sympathise with, is a complete idiot.
An even better way to represent this would have been to show Solomon on one side of a ravine, with his son on the other, with a thousand foot drop in between them. Instead of having him find a way across the expanse, just have him walk heedlessly into the ravine muttering “my son, my son” and plummet, confused, to his death. No greater love hath any man etc etc.
There are a few moments like this, for all the people concerned, but it’s especially a problem with his character. At most other times the role calls for him to be pretty stiff and one-note. I blame the script more than the actor, perhaps too generously.
Jennifer Connelly, who I seem to remember liking in movies once upon a time, is shrill and tiresome. Her character is little more than a plot device, and the forced romance angle betwixt herself and Danny feels false and unnecessary. It also leads to an excruciating ending that I want to but won’t spoil, which is made worse by the ‘final’ ending of the flick, which takes the whole applauding the hero standard to an embarrassing place. I was literally embarrassed by the ending, as if I’d done something wrong by allowing it to be made. It’s not my fault, I keep telling myself, but it doesn’t seem to work.
At one point two characters talk about the African soil, and how it is red because of all the blood that has soaked into it from the countless wars up to and following European colonialism. That’s all well and good, but the point of the flick is that the diamond industry, and our purchase of diamonds outside of Africa, is the source of these conflicts. Well, it’s not really true, since much of the conflict in many different countries within Africa is because of many different local and international reasons, not least of which are plenty of other resources worth killing over. The flick, whilst noble in its intentions, doesn’t really make its case to any appreciable degree, and bookends the film with official-seeming United Nations-type scenes that go nowhere in terms of establishing the flick’s credibility.
I don’t doubt that hundreds of thousands of people’s lives, if not more, have been recently ended because of the diamond trade. I don’t see how that makes De Beers any more or less responsible than Shell, BP, or any of the other mining companies extracting profits from Africa’s red soil.
But its few entertaining bits (DiCaprio’s accent is entertaining, the scenery is entertaining, the action is entertaining) are pretty good. Just not good enough to justify 2 hours and 20 minutes of your life, except on DVD, perchance.
5 ways that DiCaprio is trying to become the male equivalent of Meryl Streep with that accent out of 10
“I like to get kissed before I get fucked” - personally I prefer it the other way around, but that's just mel, Blood Diamond.