Blood Diamond is a movie zircon.
It doesn't cut glass, but it cuts plot, character, and credibility. It could be Hotel Rwanda, but instead it's Motel Deep-Six.
What is most bothersome about Blood Diamond is that it tries to be an incisive indictment of brutality and corruption, and at the same time it tries to be an adventuresome entertainment.
It's like making a necklace out of diamonds and gumdrops.
Director Edward Zwick is a liberal, but he's the kind of liberal who laces authenticity with hokum and contrivance until he strangles it. He's a movie mercenary. Eventually he exploits the violence trying for dramatic effect.
Zwick tries to have it all ways. His better instincts get drowned in bloodletting.
Directors who have success at the box office almost always have to lead with action and violence. Credibility often gets blown up by pyrotechnics.
The best directors - like Eastwood and Scorsese - usually keep their message under the action. But Eastwood in his later years allows message to be almost equal with entertainment. That's one reason why Flags of Our Fathers has flagged at the box office. In many audiences' minds, explosions should never be anti-war.
Eastwood's mentor, director Don Siegel, kept his message well hidden under the action in Dirty Harry. His vision is surreptitious.
The recent release The Last King of Scotland, like Blood Diamond, also dealt with actual horrible events, but it kept much of the violence off screen, so the drama was able to breathe. It didn't exploit the violence.
In Blood Diamond, plot, character, and verisimilitude are blown off the map. The story deals with a country in the throes of slaughter and the hunt for precious diamonds.
Sierre Leone explodes into civil strife in 1999, which plunges the country into seemingly endless binges of vicious mass killing.
The family of a fisherman, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), is torn apart by violent attacks. Solomon is captured and forced to work in the diamond fields. Later his son is taken by the troops of the odious Captain Poison (David Harewood) and is transformed into an amoral child soldier.
At work in a stream, in one batch of stones, Solomon finds a rare, precious pink diamond, which he buries during an attack.
Solomon is then thrown into jail. Captain Poison also winds up in jail. When he assails Solomon about the diamond, a former mercenary - also in jail - Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) overhears him.
To make a long, belabored story shorter, Solomon and Danny form an uneasy partnership with drastically different goals.
Solomon wants to use it to find his son, and Danny wants to sell it to the corrupt diamond merchants. They get inextricably connected on their disparate missions.
Also along for the bumpy ride is Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). She is a journalist who wants a scoop about conflict diamonds (blood diamonds), and how the merchants receive and market them.
This intrepid trio dodges thousands of bullets and explosions. Only the fuse of the plot doesn't go off. It sputters.
The screenplay by Charles Leavitt is a guidebook of hack 'em and hokum.
DiCaprio tries to compensate for bad writing by overacting, especially late in the film. In a crucial scene, he pants, gasps, clamors up a mountain, and makes a dopey cell phone call, of course.
During the film, Leonardo tries several different accents. You can almost see him thinking - is this the one I used yesterday?
Leonardo - cavorting as a soldier of fortune - seems to have wandered off the set of another movie. He's a swashbuckling fool.
Djimon Hounsou (Armistad, In America) brings his usual earthiness to his portrayal of the fisherman. But he too seems as though he has come from another movie - a better one.
Jennifer Connelly is cute and peppy as the love interest.
Director Zwick loves to pile up bodies. In films such as Glory and The Last Samurai, he used corpses for atmosphere. But in Blood Diamond the atmosphere has turned ugly.
And the coincidences are contrived. There's always a plane or helicopter in the area when the wayward plot says it's needed.
When a movie ends with an audience on screen applauding, you know it's run out of imagination.
Blood Diamond tries to serve two masters - humanity and the marketplace.
But, like conflict jewelry, Blood Diamond winds up having its heart in its wallet.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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