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Review by Kanaan Trotter
Edward Zwick is a romantic. With his films: Legends Of The Fall, The Last Samurai, and Defiance, the director/producer’s style is clear. He revels in grandness; relishes sweeping shots and heart-tugging stories. But this isn’t a problem. Quite the contrary. His films come off not like documentaries voiced by Oprah, but as impressive and beautiful stories. His characters are vivid and bright. And it is in the context of Zwick’s own style that Blood Diamond fits best.
Zwick tackles another large-scale story with the diamond conflicts in Africa and wastes no time for politeness. The film opens on Solomon Vandy (Hounsou), a fisherman, and his family in Sierra Leone. Solomon’s only son Dia studies at an English school miles away ands walks there and back every day.
Soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.) invade Solomon’s village and capture him as his family barely escapes. Solomon is sent to mine diamonds, goods sold through a middleman to global diamond corporations. That money is used to finance the R.U.F. as they murder and rape and mutilate the country.
Danny Archer (DiCaprio) is a diamond smuggler, a middleman, introduced when he is caught smuggling diamonds across the border. He is thrown into prison where Solomon is being kept after his mine is captured by government troops. Danny hears that Solomon has found a pink diamond the size of a fist, and he suddenly sees his ticket out of Africa.
Danny tells Solomon that he will help him find his family if Solomon will lead him to the diamond he has hidden at the mine. The movie gains speed as it becomes an intense sprint through a warzone Sierra Leone. Danny and Solomon’s relationship is a subject to note, if only for the clash of the two characters. Danny is a white African from Rhodesia; a loyal soldier who realized every battle was only political. He becomes driven by making a profit, propelled by a desire to “get his own”. His bloody hands and intense anger comes into sharp contrast with the simple and innocent Solomon. Solomon shows a complete inability to understand how to lie and steal. He laughs when Danny says that he doesn’t intend to have a family once he gets the diamond. Solomon is pure to Zwick and he beats this drum for the whole film. Solomon and the entire country are victims: victims of diamond smuggling, of civil war, of the dark hatred of mankind.
Zwick, though, does not think of this wound as one for needle and thread, but instead a cancer. In so many ways this suffering is part of who Sierra Leone’s people are. It is caught up in their lives everywhere they turn. “Out here, people kill each other as a way of life. It’s always been that way.” Danny’s former colonel explains the idea another way, “This read earth, it’s in our skin. The Shona say the colour comes from all the blood that’s been spilled fighting over the land.” Blood is binding. It is the stuff of the country. As Danny and Solomon run their common blood ties them closer and closer. Danny, white Rhodesian that he is, is still part of the place. “This is home,” the colonel says. “You’ll never leave.”
Identity, what defines men, comes up in other characters throughout the movie. Zwick gives himself an impressively wide range of possibilities in constructing a film that moves across an entire country. The number of different understandings of what makes people people is admirable. Danny’s bartender even gives a fantastic take. Looking hard at the angry white smuggler he says, “This my country, man. We here long ‘fore you came- be here long after you gone.”
Entering early in the movie is the American journalist Maddy Bowen (Connelly) who has come to report on the war funded by the international diamond industry, “The people back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand.” As Danny pulls her into the run for the diamond Zwick again plays his cards remarkably well. Maddy is sharp and opinionated. She cuts against Danny’s bitter tone and is struck herself by the reality of Solomon.
Maddy, though, gives Zwick another opportunity to point at the victimization of the country. He calls out the uselessness of large-scale socio-politics. He strikes at the diamond business with the graphic reality Maddy writes down and tries to make sense of.
Maddy’s frustration is contagious. And while it’s easy enough to forget, Zwick brings that frustration back. Solomon, in the film’s final shot, is called to testify to the United Nations council. His well-pressed European suit doesn’t make sense. It looks wrong on the fisherman who just killed his son’ kidnapper with a shovel. It’s ironic too that the only other man we’ve seen in such a suit has been the crooked diamond buyer.
I’m persuaded more and more that Zwick uses his final shot like Shakespeare uses the love of Romeo and Juliet. It seems that we should be applauding. It seems the problem is solved. Standing ovations are great things, right? But that reaction makes little sense with Zwick’s whole push in the film. The problem isn’t a political one. It’s been a struggle of blood. We were just watching the hacking of limbs and a 10 year old with a machine gun. Like Shakespeare, Zwick shows the ridiculousness of the thing we thought made sense. “True love” isn’t the romance we thought it was. Romeo and Juliet’s love destroys everyone and themselves. It’s a negative proof. So too the final shot of Blood Diamond. The solution has nothing to do with neckties and clean makeup. Perhaps it’s a start, but it is not the answer. Maddy’s frustration, our frustration, hasn’t been resolved. We shouldn’t think it has been.
Zwick ought to be commended to for his choice of actors. In a growing economy of the young and sporadic, Connelly, Hounsou, and Dicaprio are a stable and impressive group. It would not be farfetched I believe to name Connelly and Dicaprio as some of the genuinely great actors of this time. Dicaprio himself seems to move from one character to the next in his films; as if he’s been studying their every twitch for months. Zwick knows the talent he’s gathered, and his use of it is striking.
Perhaps Zwick hasn’t given an entirely fair depiction of the Sierra Leone struggle. No doubt there is more blame leveled against Danny’s kind, the colonel’s kind, the R.U.F.’s kind. He strikes universal chords with depictions of child-soldiers, with atrocities first-world countries can’t imagine. But I’m not ready to dismiss his film. It would be too simple to call it a movie against the dirty diamond business. There is far more happening. Blood Diamond is more than worth a watch, and even a re-watch.
I submit, too, that the film’s title is inaccurate. It is not a movie centralized around a single controversy. What makes us human is too strong a question to Zwick to play a background role. It stands right beside the issues of the diamond business. Let’s rename it: Blood And Diamonds.