Blood Diamond (2006), or Zwick On Atrocities

12 12 2009

Director Edward Zwick has taken on many of the pains and triumphs of war in his career. He has covered a number of important battles that have sprung up in our more recent history, and he has certainly has an eye for the vicissitudes of war. In Glory, he bravely covered the Civil War and the trials of the black soldiers fighting in the Union. In Legends of the Fall, he focused on the endurance of family in times of war. Courage Under Fire exposed the Gulf War conflict and the role of women in modern fighting forces. The Last Samurai deals with the American involvement in the Meiji Restoration of the late 1800s in Japan, and one man’s fight against the end of an era and the end of a people. Today’s film, Blood Diamond, is about the most sinister of conflicts occurring in the world today; the war zone that is Northern Africa. So many countries in turmoil and civil unrest, atrocities happening at every turn, and nobody seems to want to intervene. Blood Diamond deals specifically with the exploitation of the Africans during the Sierra Leone Civil War during the late 90s. It’s a harrowing film full of great performances that I think might be Zwick’s best work to date.

Blood Diamond stars Djimon Hounsou as Solomon, a fisherman whose family is taken from him by forces of the Revolutionary United Front, one of many opposing guerrilla military groups rooted in the region of Sierra Leone. His son is taken away to be trained and brainwashed as a member of the group, and he is taken to the diamond mines to dig until he drops. Under the strict leadership of a warlord named Captain Poison, he works day in and day out, ripping the diamonds from the earth. One day, he finds a mysteriously large pink diamond that he keeps and hides for himself. But moments later, there is an attack on the mine by the forces of the ruling government and both he and Captain Poison are taken to a prison. While in jail, he strikes a deal with a Rhodesian mercenary named Archer to help him find his family in exchange for the diamond he found. Archer is a greedy slimeball, and he has his own seedy agenda, but after they’re released from prison and they start looking for Solomon’s family, he undergoes a transformation of sorts, as he begins to look through the world with a new set of eyes. With the help of Maddy Bowen, journalist and generic love interest, can Solomon and Archer make it back to his son before the brainwashing goes too far? Can Archer find peace in himself and become selfless before his greed ruins a friendship and a budding romance? Or will they all be shot to death by crazy militants anyway?

This movie, I believe, captures the dire circumstances of the people living in Sierra Leone during the Civil War. It was a terrible time that most of us, including myself, simply cannot imagine. There were families torn apart, people being brutalized and enslaved, and it is something that we really don’t discuss enough in the Western world. Zwick takes on grueling subject matter, and deals with it in the most sensitive way he can without pulling punches. He gets into the darkest recesses of the dark continent, taking us into the heart of the conflict, which is something as simple as greed. It’s not the kind of greed where a man takes from another man to feed himself and his own; this is the greed of the wealthy, the kind that drags thousands into the mire of conflict to sate. I applaud the director here for finding the hardest-hitting shots and the most evocative angles to bring out the stark reality of the African condition.

The acting is either amazing or off the mark. I swear, Djimon Hounsou, for the first time, makes me sit up and notice him as an actor. As Solomon, he finds a character he can do justice. There is so much emotion that he has to put a voice to, almost as if he were voicing the struggles of an entire generation, and he succeeds almost effortlessly. I hope he continues to make more movies like this, and I think he has it in him as long as they give him the lead (imagine HIM as the lead in Gladiator! Yeah!) DiCaprio is DiCaprio, I should not even have to say any more. He has not disappointed me in over a decade, and I consider him to be one of the best actors of his generation. He invests himself in every role, and as Archer he really branches out to play the greedy white man, which is usually a type he avoids. Michael Sheen again dazzles as a villain, this time playing a corrupt hand in a South African diamond trading company. He is much more subdued this time, opting for the calm, more reserved seat of evil rather than the more obvious, out-there evil he protrayed in New Moon. The only stick in the mud is Jennifer Connelly, who plays maddy Bowen with a wide-eyed mediocrity that can best be described as “I Got Paid $2 Million For This Feature And All They’re Getting Is This Lousy Facial Expression”. ‘Nuff said.

Blood Diamond is a great movie punctuated by powerful performances and scenes that stick with you for a long time after you’ve turned it off. A powerful score enhances this striking drama about greed in Sierra Leone, as does cinematography that does us the service of taking us right into the fray. It’s a great film in the tradition of Zwick’s other war films, and I am very glad to have watched it! Thanks goes to Jenni for recommending this, by the way! I give Blood Diamond 9 corrupt South African diamond trading companies out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I have no idea what I shall watch! Please help me decide with RECOMMENDATIONS!