Friday, February 16, 2007

Blood Diamond

Set in late 1990s Sierra Leone during the country’s devastating civil war, Blood Diamond is the kind of film that will make any girl happy about forsaking the real sparklers for a simulant. Diamonds are supposed to represent love and luxury, but it’s surprising how many people are unaware of the sometimes murky origins of this ultimate bling accessory. It may be an action movie, but you could say Blood Diamond is to the international jewellery industry what An Inconvenient Truth was to climate change.

In Blood Diamond, fisherman Solomon Vandy’s family is torn apart when rebels descend on his village, cutting off hands, terrifying women and children, and kidnapping the strong menfolk to work in their diamond mines. The proceeds from smuggling said diamonds are used to fund their guerrilla campaign, buying guns, drugs and occasionally people. Working at a mine, Vandy risks his life to hide a massive pink rock he finds in his sifter. Eventually, Zimbabwean mercenary Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets wind of his discovery, and makes a deal with Vandy to trade the diamond for his family’s safety. This gets even more complicated when Vandy’s young son Dia is taken away by the rebels to be trained as a child soldier. Also in the mix is Maddy Bowen, an American journalist covering refugee camps until she gets enough credible evidence to bust the conflict diamond trade wide open.

DiCaprio gives a strong, well-rounded performance as Danny, the “Rhodesian” (his own words) dealer in diamonds and weapons, shaped by a tragic youth and brutal military training. But don’t go thinking he’s just a big pussycat who’s had a few tough breaks. Archer is a nasty character who acts entirely out of self-interest, and Di Caprio really does do a commendable job of playing an unappealing a***hole. He can’t completely hide his still-boyish good looks, but his choice of roles (he was nominated for a Golden Globe for both this film and his work in The Departed) shows that the whole Titanic heart-throb thing was just a phase. Djimon Hounsou is wonderful as Solomon Vandy, despite the obvious “noble savage”overtones. His fearsome reaction when his son is threatened is terrifying in its contrast to his otherwise dignified and peaceful nature. Jennifer Connelly’s role is the least developed of the three, but her skill prevents the character of Maddy from becoming simply a clichéd love interest.

With its focus firmly on moving the action along, it’s no surprise that Blood Diamond doesn’t have time to delve further into the history of Africa, colonialism and the continental carve-up that set the wheels in motion for destruction many decades ago. There’s a touching scene where Danny talks about his childhood as a white African, and yes, it’s true, white people have been persecuted on the continent. But the film seems to be trying to compare that to the struggle of native Africans – and there’s just no way it even comes close.

The film’s beautiful camera work and realistic portrayal of brutality and gore (including a frightening street battle in the capital Freetown and an Apocalypse Now-style chopper raid on a diamond mine) is undermined by its weak third act – just when you think the film is going to end, it changes action to another country in an attempt to tie up loose ends and make sure justice is done. It is, after all, an action movie, and certain Hollywood constraints are inevitable, but it would have been almost been nice NOT to see the bad guy receive his comeuppance.

Whether this film will convince people – especially bling-happy brides-to-be – to look closely at where their adornments come from is up in the air. Since the signing of the 2003 Kimberley Process, aimed at stamping out the trade in conflict diamonds, the industry has told us we can buy with confidence. And after all, trying to trace where your rock came from isn’t as easy as, say, checking how much energy your fridge uses or how much carbon your car puts into the atmosphere. But maybe it will encourage people to look at the industry as a whole, and ask themselves whether the multi-national company that mined their diamond treated its workers fairly, and ensured that the countries blessed with this resource are actually profiting from it.

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