Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Arnold Vosloo
Director: Edward Zwick
“Blood Diamond” is 110 minutes of intense, heart-wrenching, political and emotional turmoil about the blood shed by all concerned in the diamond-rich Sierra Leone region of western Africa. The only problem is that the movie is 140 minutes long, which means that for all of its good qualities, the movie will challenge your attention span, early and often. It’s as if the movie wants to be “Hey Jude,” when “Yesterday” would have been just fine.
The movie begins with Solomon (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman in a small African village that is ransacked by rebel forces. Solomon is able to save his family from being killed, but he is captured in the process and sent to a local diamond mine. There he finds a gigantic rock, which he hides from his captors. The government raids the mine and throws the workers in jail. Also in jail is Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an African soldier and diamond smuggler whose latest stash was intercepted en route to Liberia. Danny hears talk about the diamond, and after he’s released he springs Solomon in an attempt to broker a deal that will benefit both men (but mostly Danny). Meanwhile, at Danny’s favorite watering hole, he meets American journalist Maddie (Jennifer Connelly), who’s exploring the illegal diamond-smuggling trade but can’t get any solid proof. Danny brokers yet another deal: her access for his intel and know-how.
My exposure to Afrikaaners is limited (Duncan Torrance and Cindy Davies, if you’re out there, drop me a line), but memory tells me that DiCaprio got the accent mostly right but nailed the mannerisms. Hounsou has the flamboyant role of the three, and he definitely makes the most of it – he screams, a lot – and while that may earn him another Oscar nomination, it’s not exactly acting. His character is very much a pacifist, and when he loses his mind on his own wife in one scene, it doesn’t hit any true notes, just “actors acting” notes. And then there’s Connelly, who gets better and better with each role. Working with Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”) and Russell Crowe (“A Beautiful Mind”) seems to have toughened her up, and the beauty of her scenes with DiCaprio is that you can tell she isn’t at all intimidated by the onetime King of the World. The drag is that her character is pushed aside earlier than I would have liked; though it actually makes sense for the sake of story, her presence was sorely missed.
It’s almost ten years to the day that industry mags started commenting on how directors were demanding final cut on their movies and, therefore, much longer movies were becoming, and how that isn’t always a good idea. “Blood Diamond” would definitely serve as a witness for the prosecution. There’s a fantastic movie in here somewhere, but in the interest of fleshing everything out, they diluted the final product. Whenever I see one of these movies, I think of “The Truman Show,” which had tons of angles they could have explored in an attempt to flesh out the parts of Truman’s fake wife and friends. But Peter Weir knew better: instead, he delivered a 102-minute movie that made its point and resisted the urge to play the Big Drama Card.
“Blood Diamond” is mostly good, and occasionally brilliant, but too frequently dull, not to mention grossly convenient towards the end. There is much to admire, but you can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more, if only they had done so much less. If I could pass one mantra on to moviemakers these days, it would be: what would the Beatles do? More often than not, they made their mark in three minutes or less. Filmmakers should do the same, in two hours or less.
The two-disc special edition release of “Blood Diamond” is yet another disappointing effort by the fine folks at Warner Brothers. Aside from a full-length commentary track by director Edward Zwick and a 50-minute documentary on conflict diamonds (“Blood on the Stone”) starring film consultant Sorious Samura, there isn’t anything of much interest in this set. The only other extras that appear, in fact, are two short featurettes on Leonardo DiCaprio (“Becoming Archer”) and Jennifer Connolly’s (“Journalism on the Front”) characters and a 10-minute production featurette on the filming of the movie’s biggest action sequence (“Inside the Siege of Freetown”). Hardly worthy of a double-disc treatment, but then again, that seems to be Warner Bros. MO these days.