December 30, 2006

MOVIES: Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, 2006)

The movie's set in the late 1990s, during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Rebel fighters have captured the family of fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), and forced him to work in the diamond mines; the diamonds will be smuggled across the border into Liberia, and the profits from their sale will be funneled back to the rebels in the forms of weapons. Vandy finds a 100-carat pink diamond, which he manages to hide, hoping to retrieve it later.

News does spread, though, and among those learning of the diamond's existence is Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a free-lance smuggler; he offers to use his connections to help Vandy find his family if Vandy will split the profits from the diamond with him. Also on hand is American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), who wants to expose the trade in blood diamonds, and hopes that Archer will give her the hard evidence she needs.

The movie is a mess. Yet again, we see a story about black Africans told principally through the eyes of a white hero, and there's a queasy sense of exploitation in the way these tragic events are being tidily packaged as entertainment for western audiences. But even setting those concerns aside, it doesn't really work as an action thriller; the action sequences aren't very well staged and the three principal characters are all stock figures.

Connelly can do nothing with her role, as Maddy exists only to repeatedly scold the audience for its complicity in the blood diamond trade (well, and because you can't make an action flick without the obligatory Hot Chick/Love Interest).

Hounsou has a better go of it, but the role isn't much more than the personification of nobility. He does this sort of thing well, but it is starting to get awfully predictable; you see Djimon Hounsou's name in the credits and you know you're going to get misty-eyed loving gazes and pained looks of wounded dignity. Is there any actor in Hollywood who has a greater need to get out of a rut? Surely there's a juicy serial killer role he could play...

DiCaprio is quite good here; for my money, it's this performance, not The Departed, that is his best work of the year. This is the first role where I've truly believed him as an adult (though I thought The Departed played nicely on the boyishness that he and Matt Damon share), and there's a gravitas and a sense of worldliness that he's rarely shown before. I'm not qualified to judge his South African accent, but it seems at least to be internally consistent throughout the movie. He's saddled with the obligatory moment of redemption late in the film, but manages to make even that seem less cloying and predictable than expected. It's a good performance, one of the best in a weak year for leading men, but it's not enough to salvage the movie.

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