Movie News & Reviews

'Blood Diamond' falls short of a gem

Chances are that somewhere in this grand, rich country of ours, a newly engaged couple will snuggle into their seats for "Blood Diamond" wholly unaware of its subject matter. Happily contemplating the rock on her finger, which set her fiancé back two months' salary or some similar whopping amount, the bride-to-be will look adoringly at her man before the film starts, content in the knowledge that 1) she's getting married; and 2) she's already dragging him to Leonardo DiCaprio flicks.

By the end, they'll both feel like 10-carat idiots.

"Blood Diamond" is a standard adventure film that tries, somewhat successfully, to be a pointed political exposé of the dirty side of the diamond business. A small number of gems are known as "conflict diamonds" because they're smuggled out of war-torn countries. The diamonds themselves help finance those wars, thus perpetuating them. Chances are that if you buy a diamond that came from one of these countries -- and it can be very hard to distinguish them from legally mined gems -- there is a story of human suffering behind them.

One of the best smugglers is Danny Archer (DiCaprio in a scruffy and compelling performance), a hard-boiled South African. He's good at getting diamonds out of a country, and we aren't talking about shipping them out in little padded boxes. He's the type who can disinfect his knife with cheap booze, pry out one of his false teeth and retrieve the tiny gem he's hidden within -- all without a wince.

Like any smuggler with a dream, he's looking for the big score. And he thinks he has found it while in jail when he learns that a fellow prisoner, a political refugee named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), has buried a monster-sized diamond. Caught up in Sierra Leone's civil war, Solomon has been toiling in a work camp mining diamonds for rebel leaders. Just as he finds the massive gem, however, government troops sweep in.

Director Edward Zwick focuses on the action elements of Charles Leavitt's screenplay, peppering lots of extras with gunfire and pumping up the adrenaline with a couple of high-speed chases. By the time that Danny and Solomon, who have become uneasy partners in their quest for the diamond, have survived a couple of blazing battles and gotten caught up in the general distress of Sierra Leone at war, you'd think they'd want to get as far away from diamonds as possible, but Zwick keeps them ever marching onward.

Indeed, the motivation of the characters is never very compelling, whether it be for greed, as in Danny's case, or to find his son (who has been trained as a child soldier against his will) and save his family, as in Solomon's case. This is one of those films that seems to be driven more by concept than honest human emotion; it's yet one more permutation of the mismatched-buddy flick.

The acting is fine, as you'd expect with such an A-list cast, and Jennifer Connelly, in the requisite journalist-slash-love interest role, actually makes her character seem less superfluous than it is.

Still, "Blood Diamond" doesn't shine as brightly as you'd expect. Despite its social-consciousness sheen, the film is actually fairly mild when it comes to critiquing the diamond industry. It only hints at the impact of the world's diamond cartel, which is responsible for carefully controlling the supply of the precious stones, thus pumping up the prices, with only a sliver of screen time for the slimy diamond kingpin (Michael Sheen, who plays Tony Blair in "The Queen").

In other words, that newly engaged couple should not only be worrying about blood on their new diamond -- but that they might have been overcharged as well.

The reporter can be reached at dmunro@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6373.

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