- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Will “Blood Diamond” stop Americans from christening their engagements with big, shiny diamond rings? Probably not. As Maddy Bowen, a journalist played by Jennifer Connelly in the film, admits, not even photographic proof of massacres is enough to shake most of us out of our complacency.

But it won’t be for lack of trying on the filmmakers’ part.

“Blood Diamond” is a stinging condemnation of the diamond industry — or at least a big share of it. It’s an utterly convincing one, too. That’s because director Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai”) and screenwriter Charles Leavitt (“K-PAX”) tell a story rather than give a lecture.

The action — and there’s plenty of it — takes place in Sierra Leone in 1999. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou, an Oscar-nominee for “In America”) is a fisherman who sees a better life for his bright son, Dia (Caruso Kuypers in his debut). That changes when the Revolutionary United Front rolls through his village. Solomon is enslaved, forced to work in the diamond mines that allow the rebel army to buy arms.

One of those doing business with the oppressors is Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio). “I’m here for lack of a better idea,” he says to Maddy, a journalist pumping him for information about blood diamonds, so named because of the killing their purchase funds.

Danny’s not really a people person. He calls his homeland Rhodesia, not the post-colonial name, Zimbabwe. But when he discovers that Solomon has found — and hidden — a pink diamond that might be 100 karats big, he starts to care about at least one of his fellow Africans.

Danny agrees to help Solomon find his family if he splits the profits from the diamond, for which Danny already has a buyer. But first the two — with some help from the curious journalist — must make their way through a country embroiled in a very ugly civil war.

From the time his character is introduced, there’s barely a scene without Mr. DiCaprio. The former teen heartthrob has grown up before our eyes, and he’s steadily creating more and more accomplished work. Here, he manages a convincing South African accent and a very nuanced performance. He’s full of swagger — “In America, it’s bling-bling. Here, it’s bling-bang,” he says — but he’s never over the top.

He’s helped by a strong screenplay. Every character is complicated, as in real life. The smuggler has some sense of morality, the do-gooder journalist isn’t in it just to save the world.

Miss Connelly provides some relief in this man’s world as an adrenaline junkie who enjoys the thrill as much as the smuggler does. Mr. Hounsou should have a long career ahead of him. When Solomon seeks revenge on one of the men who’s stolen his son, he turns into something else before our eyes, something not quite human.

It’s not just the inhuman guerrillas or the tyrannical government that are responsible for the violence here. It’s no coincidence that in “Blood Diamond,” the world’s biggest diamond company has a Dutch name.

Mr. Zwick reinforces the parallels to reality with a title card at the end of the film reading, “It is up to the consumer to insist that a diamond is conflict-free.” Luckily, that’s as bad as the propaganda gets. By showing us the effects of greed on one African family — and throwing in some exciting chase and fight scenes — Mr. Zwick has done what his journalist suspects is impossible: He makes us care.

***

TITLE: “Blood Diamond”

RATING: R (strong violence and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Edward Zwick. Screenplay by Charles Leavitt, story by Mr. Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell.

RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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