BLOOD DIAMOND directed by Edward Zwick, written by Charles Leavitt and Gaby Mitchell, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly and Arnold Vosloo. A Warner Brothers release. 153 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). For venues and times, see Movies, page 105. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Edward Zwick is the sort of director who can't really just go out and make a big action movie. He has to have some underlying socially important theme to justify it. So if he's going to send Leonardo DiCaprio as an Rhodesian mercenary (he doesn't call it Zimbabwe) to run around the explosions in the Sierra Leone civil war, he needs to make it about, hmmm... conflict diamonds!
Zwick is making a movie about the horrors of civil war in Africa and the small stones that finance them. So the film starts and ends with segments that tell everyone in the audience how evil the film's McGuffin really is and how we shouldn't buy diamonds from war-torn states.
Okay. I hadn't planned on buying diamonds anyway. Can we get to the explosions, please?
Yes, we can, and Zwick, whose credits include Glory and The Siege, is a bang-up action director who has enough formal control to keep the geography of the big scene in our heads. We can follow the action and know where the characters are, which isn't always true these days. Just watch any Michael Bay film.
DiCaprio's Danny Archer works for people who aren't picky about where the stones come from, and when, while cooling his heels in an African prison, he runs into Djimon Hounsou's Solomon, a fisherman who's been pressed into diamond mining and has discovered a really big stone, he puts his realpolitik up against Solomon's desperate need to free his son from the rebels.
Along the way, they pick up Jennifer Connelly as an idealistic reporter who's there to raise moral and ethical points. It's a thankless role.
I've heard the complaints about DiCaprio they came up in discussions of The Departed as well and his too youthful appearance. Well, he's 32 and this is what he looks like. Actors today actually, people today look younger than people did in the 40s. We don't smoke or drink as much, and male stars in that era didn't exfoliate or work with personal trainers. Look at golden age Hollywood movies. Bogart in The Maltese Falcon is 42 but looks like he's in his 50s.
DiCaprio looks young. We really shouldn't hold that against him. There's a cash value to youthful looks in today's movie market. Besides, I'm giving him credit as someone who was once the biggest heartthrob in movies but now stars in the two most violent R-rated studio action films of 2006.
Blood Diamond goes on for too long at 153 minutes essentially, the movie ends, and there's still 10 minutes to go and end titles telling us about the end of the civil war and the ongoing presence of child soldiers in Third World conflicts.
But it's a strong ride, with excellent performances from DiCaprio, Hounsou and Connelly.