Being less than excited over the new releases opening last weekend, I decided to play a little bit of catch-up. My choices were “Blood Diamond” and “The Good Shepherd.”
These films were seemingly only connected by the great actors, but I found they addressed almost all of the same themes. Fathers and sons, identity/roots, war. I find this fascinating, as one took place in Africa and the other primarily took place in the United States; one covered the late 1920s through the early 1960s and the other took place in the 1990s, and so on. I was originally going to review them both, but it would have been massive. Instead, I chose “Blood Diamond,” which I found to be the superior film of the two.
In an opening scene, a vast attack is underway in the African wilderness. Rebel troops barrel into town, bullets flying. They attack the helpless villagers, very few of whom are able to escape. The scene is vaguely reminiscent of the opening moments of “Saving Private Ryan” in its severity and all-encompassing brutality and gives the audience a window into a violent world they are not accustomed to.
Thanks to the scene and the card at the beginning, the audience learns that the diamond industry is a dirty one. Profits from diamonds that are sold from war zones (or “conflict areas”) in Africa are used to buy weapons for the rebels who are savagely trying to take over the country. Because it’s a cheaper and easier way to buy, many diamond companies look the other way in order to get more for less. Governments either have no control over what is happening or chose not to.
We also meet Soloman Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman and dedicated family man. He is especially close with his son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers). One day as they are walking home the RUF (the major rebel group portrayed in the film) comes through, killing anything in its path. Solomon helps his family escape, but is captured and forced to work in the diamond mines. While there, he discovers a giant pink diamond. Seeing it as the way to save his family, he buries it. However, he is discovered by Captain Poison (David Harewood). Before Poison can kill him and steal the diamond back, the mine is attacked. In all of the chaos, Solomon manages to escape, only to be arrested.
In the midst of all this, we have Danny. One can see almost immediately that he is a loner, a soldier of fortune. He and his pilot friend have made a deal with “General Zero,” one of the heads of the RUF: For a large bag of diamonds, Danny gives him several grenade launchers. Danny attempts to smuggle the diamonds out of the country to a buyer, but is caught and lands in jail.
It just so happens that Solomon is in the same jail. After Danny gets wind of his story, he sees it as his chance to rid himself of the debt he incurred after the smuggling bust. He gets Solomon out of jail, and sets up a partnership with him – he’ll help Solomon find his family if Solomon shows him where the diamond is. Dia is stolen from the mother by Captain Poison, who decides to turn him into a child soldier. And that is where the plot takes off.
Danny also happens to meet a reporter, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) in a local bar. There are immediate sparks, sexual and ideological. Danny is an anti-hero, whose allegiance is to no one but himself. Maddy, on the other hand, believes in helping others. She is the voice of reason, he is the voice of reality. It is refreshing that the seemingly obligatory token love scenes are not included. Instead, two people with very different viewpoints find love and understanding with each other. And isn’t that what achieving peace is all about?
Identity is a huge issue in “Blood Diamond.” Danny works as hard as he can at denying his heritage and attachment to Africa. He is an orphan and is bemused by people who pledge their attachment to this “godforsaken continent.” He is a pessimist and a cynic. He tells Maddy that he asks himself if “God (can) ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other,” but then he looks around and realizes that “God left this place years ago.” The film is not just a journey to find the diamond and to find Solomon’s family. It is also a journey to find himself and to find his roots.
The term “war his hell” reverberates in viewers’ minds while watching the bloody clashes that occur throughout the film. As soon as the triggers are pulled, it is insanity, bloody chaos and mania. But in spite of all this, love and hate is an obvious and powerful theme. The amazing ability of the human heart and soul to love in the midst of such hatred is portrayed in the relationships between the characters.
Overall, “Blood Diamond” was an immensely satisfying film. Director of Photography Eduardo Serra captures the breathtaking beauty of Africa, as well as the poverty and squalor. The direction and writing are first-rate, but the acting guides the whole picture, predominantly Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. Hounsou’s characters usually seem to play second fiddle to others in his films, but here he is the heart of the film. He is proud and strong in the face of adversity, and one can almost feel his true, beating heart. DiCaprio currently seems to specialize in brooding, haunted characters like Danny. I always find it amazing when a child actor soars above their peers, as Kagiso Kuypers does.
Some scenes in this film might be rightly accused of being a tad too overwrought, and it is a tearjerker on many levels. “Blood Diamond” is a brutal movie, but an important one. What is so refreshing about some of the films being produced now is that they at least attempt to raise consciousness of certain issues. “Blood Diamond” gives a face to some of the struggles in Africa.
One of the most moving scenes is when Solomon looks in a store window and sees a diamond necklace, gaudy in its opulence. He doesn’t see the necklace as a whole. He sees what the hundred tiny little jewels on it represent, and the audience sees it along with him.