Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blood Diamond (2006)

Director: Edward Zwick

Without getting tangled up in the events surrounding the conflicts in Africa, "Blood Diamond" puts the dots close together, and leaves you with an intentional sense of righteous indignation. Some may find it a blessing that we don't need to take notes, while others may find its attempt at an emotional core less fruitful with a lack of backstory. It's well crafted, interesting and thought provoking, but its material might need a little more depth in order to engage its crowd.

Going into "Blood Diamond", I pretty much knew what the title referred to, and didn’t get a lot more information from the movie as to why everything was where it was. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Given the weight of the issue, the images speak loud and clear without the need of a heavy guilt trip or a lengthy history lesson. It may be less simple than the story would have us believe: stop buying diamonds, or at least do your homework as to where they came from. Maybe it is that simple, though. Leonardo DiCaprio essentially plays James Bond with a South American accent. Complete with the ability to dodge a ridiculous amount of bullets, and knock out villains with a single punch. The performance is strong, but it feels like his character could have been developed by means other than campfire or moonlit stories about his youth. It seems like it’s been done all too many times before. Djimon Hounsou offers the best performance as a quiet and intense rebel escapee, who happens across an invaluable diamond. He holds back more than any actor in the film, and conveys a lot by being the moral center, and quiet observer. When he erupts against his oppressors, it gives it much more weight. One too many coincidences prevent the script from blowing you away. There's quite a few chance meetings and lucky escapes that make it feel more like a Bond flick than a real social issue study.

The connections between American decadence and worldwide poverty are easily conveyed. Somehow the simplest image in the movie carried the most weight for me. In a panning shot we see briefly the children soldiers, guns in hand, watching American television with its glorification of excess. It makes you wish the romance between DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, who plays an American journalist, had been less of an issue. Essentially we know who these people are from the second we see them. I don’t fault the movie too much on this, because it doesn’t interfere with the plot. Connelly and DiCaprio have a verbal spar on the dancefloor, and ultimately bond on the battlefield. The love story is almost like an afterthought, thrown in because focus groups demanded it. DiCaprio uses Hounsou to get the diamond, and Connelly uses DiCaprio to get the “story.” If you didn’t follow that, essentially the characters explain that verbatim to make sure we’re all clear on the plot. Blood Diamond at least contains some well written insight on what's labled as "evil" in cultures, and for that I think it redeems itself from a few other cliched elements. In the end, we are probably not much more informed than we had been if we knew essentially the outline of the story. If not, it's a great device for opening a dialogue about an important issue. If you did know, it at least gives you something to think about when you see the children firing rounds of ammo into passerby. The images speak louder than any tacked on speech about our obsession with commercialism ever could.

No comments: