All That Glitters Is The Barrel Of A Gun

A Review of BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)
Director: Edward Zwick

Sierra Leone, Africa, 1999. The famous diamond mines in this beautiful African nation are the reason for a terrible bloodbath raging across the country. Native Sierra Leonians are massacred by members of the RUF (Rebels United Front) who want to recruit people into their war against the government. They force the natives to hunt for diamonds that they want to smuggle into Liberia and export as Liberian diamonds. Those who try to pocket the precious stones are shot dead by the RUF, and those who manage to make it to the border are intercepted by the government officials. Since those stones are exported at great risk, they are sold for astronomical prices to Dutch and Belgian diamond merchants in England.

The film chronicles one of those many stories, which entwines the lives of three characters. Solomon Vandy is a native fisherman with a wife and children, who leads a simple life. Danny Archer is a white South African mercenary who smuggles diamonds into Liberia and routinely gets arrested. Maddie Bowen is an American print journalist who is on assignment to chronicle the bloodbath in Sierra Leone.

looks like Leo's running on his face rather than his feet

While being forced to work in the fields, Vandy discovers a rare pink diamond, and hides it. However, the RUF leader spies him and tries to kill him, but they are intercepted by the government forces. Later, when they are both in prison, the RUF leader loudly accuses Vandy of having it on his person, which the latter vehemently denies. Archer, who is in prison for attempting to smuggle diamonds to England-based Dutch jeweller Van Der Kaap, hears this. He is intrigued and wants to get his hands on the diamond. Later, the RUF kidnaps Vandy’s son Dia, and Archer uses this as an opportunity to get the diamond in exchange for getting Dia back. To do this, however, he has to enlist the help of the inquisitive Maddie, who will not rest until she has the inside story of the coup and Archer’s part in it.

So between them, they strike a deal: Maddie helps Archer and Dia get to Sierra Leone safely through the rebel territory, while Solomon helps Archer get the diamond in exchange for rescuing Dia with Maddie’s help. However, while returning, they are set upon by the rebels again, and Archer is forced to make a final decision between his diamond and staying back in his beloved Africa. He chooses the latter, and Solomon, who manages to escape, agrees to trade in the diamond in exchange for asylum in England – which is dutifully caught on camera by Maddie. As a result, Van Der Kaap lands in trouble, and the end shows a conference in South Africa where Vandy is much applauded and diamond merchants from around the world resolve to stop the trade of blood diamonds.

I'm a serious actor. Yes, I am. No, really.
Sadly, Leonardo DiCaprio as David Archer could have been better etched. As a South African white and former member of a rebel army, now making a living as a diamond smuggler, there is a lot of potential for fleshing him out. But, despite his perfect Rhodesian accent and efforts, he is ultimately relegated to being the glamourous Hollywood hero – good-looking, suave, fetchingly single, and a gold-hearted thief to boot. A pity, considering that he is capable of fine acting, as evidenced by his recent performance in The Departed.

This sucks. I hope I don't look bored...
Djimon Hounsou of Amistad fame, who plays Vandy, seems pretty wasted in a role that doesn’t require him to speak much. His performance appears a little stiff, but for a simple villager, whose only goal is to get back his son Dia from the rebel army, it is evocative enough. Unfortunately, his character does not have as much screen place as Archer, and his expressions are limited to intimidating glares. Again, a potentially interesting character pushed into oblivion.

Jennifer, you need to CLOSE your other eye.
A seemingly unnecessary addition that clinches Blood Diamond’s caving in to
Hollywood formulae is Jennifer Connelly as the holier-than-thou Maddie, who’s been to Bosnia and Afghanistan and seems to be a journalist version Angelina Jolie. Maddie comes across as the maggot that crawls over the dead, who photographs their grief and puts it into words that creak under the weight of superlatives. She sits among the African refugees and watches over them, with that mixture of delightful curiosity and benevolence typical of scribes who do little more than make soap operas out of conflicts. If her performance was meant to annoy us, and make us gnash our teeth the way we do when we see such people on TV, Connelly succeeds admirably. Frankly, however, Maddie does not contribute much to the film – her exclusion wouldn’t have affected the film much – and besides, in the end, she too becomes the Hollywood heroine, sexy, teary-eyed and vulnerable, a pallid effigy in comparison to that of the drug addict in Requiem For a Dream.

But to the film’s credit, Archer and Maddie do not develop a romantic relationship, which would have stretched the film unnecessarily.

The African rebels are portrayed as a bunch of trigger-happy, drug-toting thugs who engage in rowdy and murderous deeds. Fair enough. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is little of Africa about them, despite their tropical hideouts, clothes and accents. Perhaps it’s the accents, which sound closer to American Ebonics than authentic African. That plus the fact that they listen to violent “gangsta” rap makes them appear all the more Hollywood Ghetto – black kids from crime-infested suburbs – photoshopped into the jungles of West Africa.

There are some groan-inducing moments – when Maddie sits among the refugees in a gesture of contemptuous benevolence; when Archer, hit by a bullet, makes his last call to Maddie; and when the diamond merchants stand up and applaud a smiling Solomon Vandy. These scenes in particular are supposed to be moving, but they fail miserably.

One for you, and one for you, and...

At first glance, Blood Diamond appears to belong to that category of films for whom Cannes would be happy hunting ground. It’s all there – an unusual story of the violence surrounding African diamond exports; beautiful but scarred Sierra Leone, a country on the West African coast that is rarely portrayed in cinema; snapshots of village life, goats and fishermen; diamond thieves attempting to smuggle stones into Liberia using ingenious methods; African rebels recruiting child soldiers and training them with AK-47 assault rifles. The attempt certainly seems sincere, but the failure becomes apparent as the film progresses. It ultimately culminates in a clichéd all’s-well-that-ends-well where one protagonist dies in a blaze of glory and other starts a new life.

Blood Diamond certainly is a good film for the most part, both conceptually and visually – the green hills of Sierra Leone’s diamond country, the villagers fishing against the sunset, the locals hunting for diamonds at gunpoint and being shot mercilessly for disobedience; the rebels shooting every living thing in sight while kidnapping children for recruitment into their armies; and the mindless bloodshed and mayhem that ensues from the consequent conflicts. There is attention given to tiny details of African life - the places and ways in which smugglers hide the diamonds; Solomon’s anger at his wife on discovering his son is missing; the methods using which child soldiers are inducted into the rebel forces; and the streets and sounds of Sierra Leone. But, for a film into which so much effort has been put, with an unusual and authentic storyline, setting and depiction of the politics of world trade, Blood Diamond should have been more than just a film worth watching once.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

I saw 'blood diamond' too... found it deeply disturbing..