Blood Diamond is an important film. It’s the sort of film that could easily get bogged down in the worthiness of its nature. A deeply political look at the true cost of conflict diamonds?? An analysis of the ignorance of the West on all things African? A study of how immoral business practices are making a few men rich while others die mining the precious stones? And all set against the backdrop of the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone? Why, the Academy must have been close to having an embarrassing accident at the mere thought of it.
Happily, while the film ticks off the above boxes and makes some interesting political and moral points, director Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai) knows enough about audience-pleasing to keep the story rolling. And roll it most certainly does. Even the device of two different “African” leads – one white, one black – doesn’t particularly rankle. It helps, of course, that the two are played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as South African mercenary and smuggler Danny Archer, and the excellent Djimon Hounsou as Solomon, a Mende fisherman who loses his son to rebel forces. Archer is the main focus – all dubious morality and weary cynicism – but it is Solomon who holds the key to both men’s redemption and safety: the location of a rare and hugely valuable pink diamond.
The two men need each other to survive. For Danny, that diamond represents his ticket to freedom. For Solomon, Danny represents his best chance of being reunited with his family. That side of the tale is a little heavy-handed, ditto the growing connection between Danny and American journalist Maddy (Jennifer Connelly). You probably don’t need to be told that the burgeoning relationship brings out Danny’s softer side, a shot at a second, very different life because you already guessed that, because it’s movie cliché no. 2 and that’s what happens when you throw two big name attractive actors together overseas. But, frankly, it hardly matters, because the performances are so good, the big themes are so important and Zwick couldn’t make an ugly movie if he tried. It’s certainly not perfect, but for mainstream moviemaking with a moral, this is probably about as good as it gets.