- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Director Edward Zwick’s 2003 movie “The Last Samurai” broke the $100 million mark, and his previous films starred some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters.

He still has to fight the studios for creative control every time he steps behind the camera.

“Every director is prey to those conversations with the financial entity [looking to make a more commercial film]. No one is immune,” says Mr. Zwick, in town this week to promote his knotty African saga “Blood Diamond.” “You have to fight for what you believe, to wear down those forces of compromise and oversimplification that are inevitably foisted upon you.”

Even Martin Scorsese squared off with the check writers during the making of “The Departed,” according to Mr. Zwick.

“When directors get together, they talk about the indignity of being a director,” he says.

But when you consider how much money is at stake in a modern epic, it’s easier to understand why a studio hopes to govern how every last dollar is spent.

Mr. Zwick’s “Blood Diamond” is a ripe example. The sprawling adventure follows a diamond smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) on the trail of a stone that could buy his ticket out of war-torn Sierra Leone. His character must team with an African man (Djimon Hounsou) whose son has been kidnapped by rebel forces, as well as a journalist (Jennifer Connelly) trying to blow the whistle on the immoral “conflict diamond” trade.

The film packs plenty of action, plus the combined star wattage of Mr. DiCaprio and the stunning Miss Connelly. Yet it’s a message film, meant to make moviegoers think twice before buying their next diamond. It explores the costs involved in the diamond trade, like, for example, the ruthless armies who force children to dig and fight for the sparkling rocks.

Sounds like just the ticket for someone looking to escape the long mall lines this time of the year, right?

“I believe there’s a tradition in American film of an entertaining movie with a conscience,” he says. “Rather than preaching to the choir, I wanted to preach to the multiplex.”

Mr. Zwick, a quick wit who takes dignified pauses before some answers, says the story behind “Blood Diamond” reflects current injustices on the continent.

“Within this tiny country, there was the evocation of so many issues that were not unique to that place at that time, like refugees, bad governments and corporate involvement with a specific resource,” he says. The inequities surrounding the diamond trade, he adds, have improved greatly since 1999, the year in which the film is set.

He’s also a believer in the power of art to foster change, much the way Miss Connelly’s character in the movie clings to the conviction that one well-written article can spark a revolution.

“It may never be a single film that provokes change,” he says. “But to deny its role is to take away a level of complexity and seriousness from film and relegate it to the simple pleasures or theme park rides many [films] have become.”

Mr. Zwick, whose producing credits include 2000’s “Traffic” and television’s “thirtysomething,” made his feature directing debut with 1986’s barbed relationship drama “About Last Night.” His subsequent projects revealed his zest for larger canvases — think “Samurai,” “Legends of the Fall” (1994) and “Glory” (1989).

Sometimes, he regrets the sweep of his ambitions.

“Mid-shoot, I thought about Samuel Beckett’s ‘End Game,’ in which two men are buried up to their necks … or ‘My Dinner with Andre,’ ” he says. “Then time goes on, you wait a while, you recover. I tried to suggest to my wife that it’s like the pain of childbirth, and she said, ‘Shut the [expletive] up.’ ”

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