Blood Diamond has, I think, been on the receiving end of a lot of undeserved flak since its release Friday; it isn’t terrible, whatever other critics may say, but it is stunningly mediocre. There are a few great moments sprinkled throughout, as well as a few groan-worthy ones, but on the whole there’s not much to either recommend or condemn the film.
Set in Sierra Leone in 1999, Blood Diamond takes as its subject the devastation caused in Africa by the so-called “conflict diamonds” – diamonds mined by slave labor, the exportation of which has directly led to violence and civil war. At the center stand Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a South African mercenary looking to find a way out of Africa, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Honsou), a fisherman living in a small village in Sierra Leone. Soon enough, the war comes to Vandy’s village, his son is kidnapped, his wife and the rest of his children become refugees, and he himself is forced into slave labor in the diamond mines. In the midst of an air strike on the mine, Vandy finds a large pink diamond, which he buries immediately before being carted away to prison in Freetown. In prison, Archer learns about Vandy’s diamond and gets him released, so that they can return to the mine, get the diamond, and sell it.
Honsou, who may be recognizable to American audiences from strong performances in Gladiator and Amistad, gives the film’s only memorable performance, and I will go so far as to say that he deserves an Oscar for his work here. DiCaprio, a reliable but never brilliant actor, does his best, but he fails to bring out anything like complexity in his character despite repeated attempts, and his efforts at a South African accent are laughable. Jennifer Connelly, who is generally a solid actress in addition to being one of the most beautiful women on the planet, is absolutely forgettable as Maddy Brown, an idealistic American journalist intent on healing the world, and although some part of the problem may be the lines she has to read it seems as if she doesn’t even try to be convincing. For the most part, it’s tolerable, but when the filmmakers use her to hit the audience over the head with the film’s message it becomes unbearable. In a minor role as Archer’s old Colonel, Arnold Vosloo is satisfactory but by no means charismatic; Michael Sheen only bears mention for his brief screen time as an aside for his superb performance in The Queen; he’s not bad here but, like the rest of the movie, more or less forgettable.
The film?s other great flaw is Edward Zwick, a director with a good reputation built on the foundation of two mediocre movies (Glory and The Last Samurai). Zwick tries to do far too much in his two hour and twenty minutes, cutting one storyline in with another, back and forth, and the result is a lukewarm mishmash of scenes, edible but not particularly appetizing. Let us hope that Djimon Honsou finally gets some much-deserved notice, but aside from him Blood Diamond is nothing to write home about.
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