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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Blood Diamond" (2006)

The Important Desert Movie has become a new genre. Around this time every year, we get a barrage of Important political thrillers meant to stir our consciousness and raise Important issues. Most of them, at one point or another, take place in Africa or the Middle East. You can count on a few shots of jeeps careening down a valley with soldiers in the backseat hoisting their uzis. There’s usually a white person or two trying to help the sick, the poor or other refugees. The white people can either be do-gooders or evil-doers with one monologue about why their brand of evil is the right thing to do. It will always end with a coda about how ”these things still go on today.” Some examples would be: The Constant Gardener, Hotel Rwanda, Catch A Fire, Syriana, Babel and now Blood Diamond.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider these bad movies. I just see a lot of them at this time of year and going into them I tend to feel as though I have an obligation to at least be respectful toward them for having the courage to tell a story that probably needs to be told. I’ll just never want to own the damn thing on DVD. One viewing of these films will suffice for an entire lifetime. You watch them to feel enlightened by the world you thank your lucky stars you don’t have to live in. I’m sure the actors feel the same way when they make it, that is before they head back to Hollywood to make a bubbly romantic comedy…but I’m not cynical or anything.

"Blood Diamond" is a mostly decent Important Desert Movie. The Desert in question: Sierra Leone. The Important Topic: Diamond trade. The White People Who Will Put Things Right: A diamond smuggler named Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a journalist named Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). The Local Who Knows More Than They Do: Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), whose family gets torn apart by a rebellion who have their own diamond trade going on and who have torn apart many villages and families to keep it going.

Solomon gets taken prisoner to mine for diamonds. He finds a true gem and conceals it. Knowing he could get shot with no questions asked for doing such a thing, he nevertheless manages to bury it in the sand. Later, Solomon gets mistaken for a rebel and put in prison, where he meets Danny, the smuggler. Danny hears of this alleged diamond Solomon has hidden and presses him for more information. Such a diamond can get them both out of this Godforsaken country once and for all. But Solomon only wants to find his family. Danny offers to help Solomon get to his family if they split the money they make from the diamond 50/50. Solomon reluctantly agrees.

Getting mixed up in the middle of this is Maddy, the reporter, who has been in Sierra Leone doing a story on American diamond retailer Van De Kaap. She wants to do an expose on the death toll that accompanies diamond trade, but lacks the cold hard facts. Guess who possesses such facts? You guessed it. The white guy. Anyway, the three of them go on a journey to try and find Solomon’s family, retrieve the diamond and uncover more of the story, while running into gunfire, various debates over personal values and the occasional declaration of “I’m in charge now!”

Most of “Blood Diamond” works, but the overall length of the movie does it a disservice. The drama does not justify the 150 minute running time (although it has become a rule of the genre that the film must be at least two hours or more, or else it loses street cred). The movie’s message could have been more potent if the drama didn’t feel so clunky. The story Maddy tries to break could have had more urgency if it didn’t feel like an afterthought in the third act. Director Edward Zwick still knows how to put together a tight action sequence, but his movies seem to get longer, more deliberately paced and dramatically disjointed every time.

DiCaprio continues his streak of excellent performances, even if his accent tends to do some globetrotting. He proves himself a good, rugged leading man type whom you’re not sure you can fully trust. Connelly fares almost as well. Unfortunately, her performance goes over the top when she gives a monologue about how she wants to do more for these people than write articles about them. It’s a noble speech, but she can’t quite pull it off without being overly melodramatic. Hounsou continues to be a strong presence in whatever film he’s in and his third of the story turns out to be the most interesting.

But never mind, because most Important Desert Movies get told from the white spectator’s point of view anyway. These movies strive for one thing: Nobility. “Blood Diamond” has nobility and I’m sure it will arouse people’s anger and curiosity when they learn about everything that goes into getting a diamond from a third world country to these United States. It’s a story that needs to be told and I’m glad it’s out there. I just wish it had been constructed in a way where I could walk out feeling more than, “Damn, that sucks…but at least it’s Important.”

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