STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $34.98
RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes
• Commentary by director Edward Zwick
• "Blood on the Stone" documentary: Follow the path of a diamond from the ground to the store
• “Becoming Archer”: a profile of Leonardo DiCaprio and how he trained for the war
• “Journalism on the Front Line”: Jennifer Connelly on women journalists at war
• Featurette: “Inside the Siege of Freetown”: see how Ed Zwick tackled the pivotal scene
• Music video: "Shine On Em" by rap artist Nas
• Theatrical trailer

The Pitch

"Give us us bling!"

The Humans

Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Arnold Vosloo

When the Ottoia show up, you know you’re fucked. When they show up packing heat, you know you’re fucked with a cheese grater…

The Nutshell

In 1999, Sierra Leone fisherman Solomon Vandy and his family are caught up in the sudden bloody civil war that arises when rebels (the RUF) storm the country in an attempt to overthrow the government. Vandy is taken away from his family and sent to work as a digger in the quest to find diamonds. These diamonds, called conflict or blood diamonds, are used by the RUF to finance their war effort and the methods they use to obtain them involve torture, genocide, the abduction of children to use as foot soldiers, and smuggling. It’s the smuggling part that involves former Rhodesian (by way of South Africa) Danny Archer (DiCaprio), who served in the South African military, predominantly in the Angola conflict, and who now smuggles the illicit diamonds across the border to nearby Liberia for his boss, Col. Koetzee (Vosloo). He also engaging in other side ventures in an effort to get enough money to get off the continent forever.

Hounsou: "Um, is that who I think it is -"
DiCaprio: "Yeah, Kirk Cameron trying to get on set to ask me for a job again…"

While mining for diamonds in an RUF camp, Vandy finds a rough pink diamond big enough to choke a horse and hides it just as the government forces storm the camp and arrest everyone. The head RUF insurgent, Captain Poison (David Harewood), saw Vandy take the diamond and was about to kill him before the camp was overrun. They later meet back up in prison, where Poison vows to get the diamond from Vandy, which is how Archer heard of it, after he himself was arrested for smuggling. Poison later takes Vandy’s son, Dia, as one of the RUF child soldiers, not knowing who he is. Vandy is then soon released, and finds work in Freetown while hoping to find his family. Archer hooks up with him and makes him a proposition: he’ll get Vandy back to the diamond’s location and also help Vandy find his family if Vandy agrees to split the profits of the diamond’s sale with him.

"And you are…"
"Maddy Bowen."
"And you’re here because…"
"I’m the love interest and the resident cheesecake."
"Uh huh, and this is in regards to…"
"The subplot, moron."
"Right, and so we’re supposed to have…"
"Have a somewhat meaningless relationship that ultimately goes nowhere."
"Sure. And the point is…"
"Oh fuck this, I’m going to go do Hulk 2…"

While making preparations to get to the diamond, Archer meets up with American journalist, Maddy Bowen (Connelly), and they have several run-ins, where they discuss the pros and cons (mostly the cons) of each other’s chosen profession amid the backdrop of what’s going on around them. Bowen accompanies Vandy and Archer along part of the trip to get the diamond, and there are numerous gun battles between the warring factions of Sierra Leone in which the trio find themselves caught up. Archer and Vandy have an uneasy alliance and they frequently find themselves not only at odds, but at each other’s throats. Vandy is more concerned with finding his son than with finding the diamond, which puts his goals in direct conflict with Archer’s goal of getting the rock and getting the hell out of Africa. Eventually, Archer makes a deal with Koetzee to get the diamond by calling in an airstrike at the RUF camp where Vandy hid the diamond. When the chips are down, however, and the inevitable double-crosses occur, Archer has to make a fateful decision: Vandy and his son, or the diamond?

DiCaprio: "Jesus, what’s is this, a revolution?"
Hounsou: "No, they just got out of seeing Eragon."

The Lowdown

I find myself really enjoying DiCaprio’s work of late, what with his recent turns in The Aviator, The Departed, and now Blood Diamond, which is a very solid movie, made by producer/director Edward Zwick and his partner Marshall Herskovitz. DiCaprio throws himself into the role, turning in a very believable and layered performance as antihero Archer, who seems to have traces of Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and more than a bit of Captain Mal from Serenity; and who does what it takes to survive. He has a well-structured back-story and you can see how his past has shaped him to be the smuggler that he is at the beginning of the movie. He looks out for #1 and only seeks to get the scratch he needs to get out of the lifelong struggle he’s experienced on the Dark Continent, even though he’s at home in virtually any part of it, whether it be a large city or the bush. Particularly noticeable is DiCaprio’s work on his South African accent. I spent half the movie thinking he was one of Arjen Rudd’s boys. Comparing his work in this film and Departed, I’d say it’s definitely a toss up for which one he deserved the Oscar nomination, although I’d still lean more toward the latter.

Yep, it’s another Monday in LA…

Djimon Hounsou is also very good in the role as Vandy, turning in the most intense performance I’ve ever seen him give, even more so than Amistad. I frequently also enjoy his work, as he’s one of the rare working African actors who can move seamlessly from his native locale to more American fare such as The Island, Constantine, etc., even though he still frequently plays Africans in those movies anyway. And of course he takes an axe to the head better than anybody this side of Jason Voorhees. Connelly is playing a role that you’re used to seeing her play: the main side chick, otherwise known as the love interest, and you know that this is a role that she could do in her sleep, but one we find her doing more and more lately. Even her fine work in A Beautiful Mind was a variation on this. Connelly’s welcome in damn near any flick, but it’s a shame that this is what she seems to be landing lately. In Diamond, it’s a role that arguably isn’t even needed. More on that later.

What drives the story of Blood Diamond is of course equal parts the search for the stone and also the commentary on the entire conflict diamond situation in Africa. I found myself decidedly more interested in the former than the latter, because even though the story is very well told in Diamond about the conflict diamond state of affairs, it’s nothing that I haven’t heard and seen before. We all know the conditions all over Africa are bad, and I’ve seen this firsthand myself. Director Zwick effectively weaves the conflict diamond milieu into the story very well, stopping just short of clubbing you on the head with it. But I’ve recently seen movies such a Hotel Rwanda and the truly excellent Constant Gardener that portrayed the various African situations of AIDS, genocide, war and corporate greed in somewhat more compelling fashion. Not a rip on what was done in Blood Diamond at all, because it is told very well, it’s just that those other films showed me various things that I hadn’t really seen before. The diamonds situation has been hit upon in one form or another even in films such as Die Another Day. I know more about it than I did the stories told in Rwanda and Gardener.

successfully convinced everyone that he couldn’t possibly be hiding a
diamond on his body. Yep, successfully convinced the 50 or so convicts behind him that
there wasn’t a diamond anywhere on his naked, sweaty, buff, jailhouse body. Nosirree, not a single one…

That issue aside, I was drawn up in Archer’s and Vandy’s journey through the war torn regions of Sierra Leone. There’s enough bullets whizzing by and bodies piling up in this movie to rival any Rambo flick. And it’s carried on in the film with a frequency of a useless Paris Hilton story in a major news outlet. By the time the last shot has rung out, you’re nearly exhausted. I had the same experience with Black Hawk Down, although the battle in that film was more protracted. The battle scenes here are shorter, but they come at you a lot more often. What is most effectively portrayed, however, is the indoctrination of children as the RUF foot soldiers, including Vandy’s son, and you see the atrocities that they’re taught to commit and how much their old lives are washed away by the blood they spill. In fact it’s a crucial plot point in the climax of the film between Archer, Vandy and his son.

As for the issue of the love interest subplot and whether or not that’s needed, I’d probably have to side with the haters on that one. Connelly’s Bowen character is there primarily for exposition and to throw a little estrogen into the mix. But it has nothing to do with Connelly’s portrayal, it’s just the nature of the character herself. The main thing she brings is showing the conflict from our POV, and for Archer to have someone with whom to bounce off the exposition. But the film could easily have done without it and would have been much tighter probably also, as it clocks in at well over two hours. Nevertheless, the work done by DiCaprio, Hounsou and Zwick is solid all around and this is definitely a good movie. You even get to see Arnold Vosloo playing an actual South African…

"Okay, show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show me where the diamond is. Show…"

The Package

The film looks great and Zwick is very good at showing you both the horrors and beauty of Africa, and the sound is also good. There’s a commentary by Zwick and several featurettes including “Becoming Archer”, a profile of Leonardo DiCaprio and how he trained for the war; and “Journalism on the Front Line”: Jennifer Connelly on women journalists at war; and “Inside the Siege of Freetown”: see how Ed Zwick tackled the pivotal scene. These all run around 10 minutes each and are pretty standard behind-the-scenes fare. However, the real meat of the special features is the "Blood on the Stone" documentary, where filmmaker and Sierra Leone diamond expert Sorious Samura takes you on a journey of a diamond as it’s dug out of the ground to its final destination in New York. The thing of it is, however, he shows you the black market route the diamond would take in violation of the Kimberly Process, which was enacted about five years ago in an attempt to regulate the industry and prevent the trade of conflict diamonds from war torn regions.

The doc runs about 50 minutes and shows you how the men of Sierra Leone work their asses off for peanuts a day and the diamonds are still easily smuggled out of the country and to American and European markets. One of the most surprising things you discover is that most of the men who work the diamonds don’t even know about the Kimberly Process, even those it’s supposed to be common knowledge. Samura takes you right into the thick of the illicit diamond trade on both continents and you see how, even though every effort is made to stop conflict diamonds, it can pretty much be for naught. It’s a very interesting watch. There’s also a musical video, "Shine On Em" by rap artist Nas, and a theatrical trailer. I found it more than ironic that the filmmakers used a rap artist to do their theme song, when rappers are probably the most notorious users of bling in American culture. Heh, oops?

7.9 out of 10