Once you get past Leonardo DiCaprio talking funny, it's a good action-adventure movie. Maybe too good.
Director Edward Zwick intends for Blood Diamond to spark outrage at the ways the West has exploited Africa and made Africans pay with their blood for our riches, comforts, and luxuries. Ideally, after watching the movie, no one will ever want to give or receive a diamond again.
But every time the movie slowed down to make its political and moral points I grew impatient. I wanted to get back to the action.
The adventure tale of how Leonardo DiCaprio's soldier of fortune redeems his soul by helping Djimoun Hounsou find the diamond that will buy his family's freedom and rescue his son from the vicious warlord who has brainwashed him and turned him into a captain in his little army of child murderers is almost perfectly told. There's a single lapse. Fifteen minutes when the director lets his narrative go slack as DiCaprio and Housou work through issues they've already resolved in earlier scenes. But for the most part Blood Diamond builds beautifully to its exciting, and fitting, Hemingwayesque final showdown.
DiCaprio makes a fine anti-hero. I liked his performance here much better than what he did in The Departed, where he was very good but a bit strident and he let the fact that he was working show. In Blood Diamond, a more physically grueling part, he's more relaxed, more natural.
Jennifer Connolly is more than just scenery, but not much more, but that's not her fault. Her character is the voice of morality and justice and it's her job to remind us that the stakes here are real, that the story may be fiction but the violence, and the blood and the thieving and death aren't, which means that whenever Blood Diamond slows down to make its points, Connolly's character moves to the center of the screen. As I said, at those moments the movie loses its energy and Connolly pays the price for that.
What Blood Diamond can't do with speechifying, though, it achieves in another way through pictures.
Zwick and his cinematograher Eduardo Serra make Sierra Leone absolutely beautiful, even in its poverty and violence. This part of Africa is not a hell on earth. It's a near paradise where hell keeps flaming up through the crust. Less romantically, it's a place where people live.
Blood Diamond shows the people of Sierra Leone busy being people. They work, they plan, they hope for the best. They send their children to school. They dream of a better life. This isn't presented in a Gee, they're just like us way. It's presented as a fact essential to the tragedy.
The people have no choice but to carry on in the face of the horror because they can't escape. There is nothing for them to do but survive it by doing their best to pretend it isn't there or that it will end.
They are heroic in their determination not to be heroic but to just live.
Djimoun Hounsou perfectly embodies the nobility of this ordinariness. He goes after his son, he fights, he kills, he survives it all not because he's a hero, but because that's what a man like him does. It's what he is supposed to do. He is responsible. He is obligated.
"I am his father!"
Another actor might have made that a roar of defiance or self-congratulation, a battle cry, at least. Hounsou is roaring at himself to remind himself he has no choice.
"He is my son!"
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