Film Critic John Hartl of MSNBC gave Leonardo Dicaprio starred movie Blood Diamond Five stars recently. Here’s what he said about the movie.
“Civil war” may be a matter of semantics at the moment, but Edward Zwick‘s gripping African thriller, “Blood Diamond,” is upfront about using it to describe the situation in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s.
While other reporters are fixated on the sexual habits of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, an American journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), is working on a story that’s designed to expose the illegal and deeply destructive smuggling of Sierra Leone diamonds to Liberia. Coverage of this ongoing disaster, she points out, will be lucky to turn up, sandwiched between weather and sports, on American television.
As Zwick and his screenwriter, Charles Leavitt, demonstrate in the opening scenes, the diamond trade is wiping out whole families while generating brainwashed “child soldiers” who have become as casually murderous as their well-armed elders. No one’s safe from the terrifying chaos that has overtaken the country.
That includes a cynical Zimbabwe smuggler, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a Sierra Leone fisherman, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who has found a large and priceless diamond and buried it. When the two men end up in the same prison, Danny tries to find a way to part Solomon from his treasure.
Orphaned at the age of 9, Danny doesn’t stick his neck out for anyone, as Humphrey Bogart used to say. He keeps his cool while Solomon acts impulsively, screaming at guards who separate him from his family and nearly getting himself killed because of a mistaken identity.
Both men are looking for a way out, and they’re not alone. It’s dangerous just to know where the diamond has been hidden; only someone with Danny’s connections has a real chance of getting it out of the country. When Danny and Solomon pretend to be journalists, and Maddy daringly takes them along with her, the situation just becomes more volatile.
Zwick and his try-anything cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, create several thrilling action sequences that turn on Danny and Maddy’s instincts for keeping their wits about them. Deftly tapping into their experiences as fast-talkers, they scrape by in scene after scene, just managing to make their survival plausible.
Zwick’s movies (“Glory,” “Courage Under Fire“) sometimes have a schematic quality about them, and that’s true of the characters in “Blood Diamond.” We know that Danny must become less mercenary, that Maddy will recognize his change of heart, and that Danny and Solomon will have a showdown over each other’s motives.
But the actors consistently make these moments believable by emphasizing the touches of ambiguity in the script. Danny is not as easy to read as he may seem, thanks to DiCaprio’s careful work, and the same is true of Connelly’s conflicted Maddy and Hounsou’s more single-minded Solomon.
It all pays off in the second half, as the characters are fleshed out in ways that didn’t at first seem possible. The actors go beyond playing types and enter the world of three-dimensional people who recognize and celebrate a moment of grace when they see it.