Review: _Blood Diamond_

Warning: plot spoilers

Since I've got a week off from teaching, I've been taking it kind of easy -- catching up on some film, music, reading, and exercise. Yesterday and today, I split my viewing of the two and a half-hour Edward Zwick film Blood Diamond (2006).

The film cuts between very well-done action-flick violence sequences, chase scenes, and heartfelt relationships between the three major characters. This creates a weird parallel, because there's one action sequence that almost directly imps a chopper vs. guys-on-the-ground scene from Rambo III (1989).

So, does this film want to appeal to guys who like gunplay and military technology, or people interested in exotic settings in Africa, or those with liberal political views interested in the "blood diamond" trade, African child soldiers, war in Sierra Leone, or the general misery of Africans?

Now, I'm interested in all of those things; that said, there's too much in this film going on at once, even if it's a long film. Zwick seems like a filmmaker caught between wanting to make action movies with gore and blood, but at the same time wishing to portray real character development.

He tried to do this with The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, and in this film he's got the talents of Connelly, DiCaprio, and Hounsou. I wouldn't say he failed so much as he needs more lability in his approach. Blood Diamond needs some kind of foil to its grimness -- humor, perhaps. The script also seems predictable, and left me not fully satisfied.

One difficulty is the racial aspect of the film. Zwick should have read Heart of Darkness by Conrad as he was making this film; and if he did, more. That novella's controlled themes of Africa show how to deal with the colonialism/self-governance, white/black, inside-jungle/outside-jungle dialectics inherent in Western media dealing with Africa.

But how to address Conrad's 1902 racism, then? Blood Diamond creates a sentimental relationship between Hounsou's character Solomon Vandy and his son Dia. So, if this film feels like an action flick, the father/son relationship can only be held up by Hounsou instead of the plot -- this island makes it sentimental.

Zwick also makes DiCaprio's diamond-smuggling character Danny Archer similarly one-dimensional, by not giving him the playfulness to move between mercenary and man-finding-virtue. The model for such a character would be Johnny Depp's body of work, but we end with a dying Archer sending off Vandy and his son, monster diamond in hand.

For me, it felt just too traditional. This movie felt kind of like the original King Kong -- spectacular filmmaking coupled with too-manipulative plotting and use of characters. But King Kong had humor, and the villain of the movie was the filmmaker himself, who never actually turns good.

Which reminds me: how can Danny Archer kill so many people -- white and black, good and bad, child soldiers, ex-military comrades of his -- and still be "good"? And the end wasn't believable enough for me, with Archer shot through the chest but not trying to stanch the blood flow, and then refusing to be carried a few yards to a plane to escape.

There's a lot of good things here; I liked Zwick's action sequences and his depiction of child soldiers. However, I'm sad to say that Zwick may never make great films until he loosens up, takes himself less seriously, cuts the sentimentality, and lets the script do the work, chooses his themes more selectively, and lets the director make the action sequences. Paul Greengrass's Bourne Ultimatum should be his model.
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