By Al Kratina
Jan 4, 2007 - 19:30
I wonder what culture director Edward Zwick will poach from next? He's already handled feudal Japan in
The Last Samurai, and in
Blood Diamond he tackles Africa with all the subtlety of a linebacker on cocaine, so I'm curious as to where his particular brand of cultural tourism will next lead. Will it be the Inuit, with a white fur trader saving the natives from a genetically engineered polar bear, while learning from them true respect for Mother Nature and the Earth itself? Or will the hero be a noble conquistador in 15th century South America, who learns lessons of life, love, and how to take peyote to see the 4th dimension, in exchange for valuable knowledge of European Civilization and pointers on how to die of smallpox? Either way, I'm sure I'll be just as fascinated to learn about what other cultures are like if you're white and visiting for 2 hours.
Blood Diamond is about the African trade in conflict diamonds, a business that's directly and indirectly responsible for thousands of deaths and hundreds of irritating white gold chains with jewel-encrusted outlines of microphones. I suppose the ultimate goal of the film is to make people feel guilty for their frivolous diamond purchases, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the kind of people who are using 24 carat pink stones to spell out "playa" on their teeth are not the kind of people who feel guilty about anything. They may feel remorse in 20 years when they look back on the Jennifer Lopez video they guest-starred in and see themselves dressed in inflated fur coats and oversized jewelry like a swollen Cruella Deville, but certainly not guilt. Still, they should, judging by this movie. Taking place in civil-war torn Sierra Leone, Blood Diamond follows a smuggler/mercenary, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in his quest to find a fisherman's hidden treasure: a huge rose diamond the size of a bird's egg. Thankfully, Jennifer Connelly, as an American reporter, is there to inform both the characters and the viewers as to what is right and what is wrong, just in case we get lost. The evil white man and the noble savage engage in a dance of morality, ethics, and bullet dodging, but to the film's credit, DiCaprio's inevitable redemption is realistically hard-won and motivated more by futility than by nobility. Still, there are moments of pure cheese in the story, where maudlin sentiment clashes strikingly with the otherwise harsh realism of the film.
This realism is one of the strong points in the film. Zwick doesn't shy away from some of the more brutal aspects of the story, and the script, for the most part, adopts a “show don't tell" attitude, providing information through inference instead of exposition. However, the moments in which melodrama softens the brutality of the film are cataclysmic. A movie like this needs a certain uniformity to its tone to really succeed, and in this case, what could have been a gripping, realistic, and powerful drama is compromised by its sentimentality. The events in the film, in which the illegal trade in diamonds finances civil war and creates forced mining camps, slavery, and endless bloodshed, are heart-wrenching enough without adding the cinematic equivalents of a single violin playing in the rain. If it weren't for these scenes, the film would be a solid success, with a stunning performance by DiCaprio and an equally strong turn by Djimon Honsou augmenting an interesting story. Visually, the film is exciting and dynamic, moving at a fast clip, and Zwick infuses the violent action sequences with a great deal of energy and realism, but the sappy Douglas Sirk melodrama is just too much for Blood Diamond to overcome, just as that white gold chain with the diamond studding I saw at the swamp meet is too much to resist.
Rating: 6 /10