It’s become trendy to either lavish Oscar nominated films with instant praise or to instantly dislike them for their notable accomplishments. I’ve never understood either side, choosing to judge a picture on its own merit – not on its award potential. Understand then, my dislike of Blood Diamond has nothing to do with the five nominations the Academy bestowed upon the film. Instead my disinterest is spawned by the film's preachy nature and less than compelling tale of greed.
Africa is in bad shape. This seems to be a common theme with at least one film a year, so Blood Diamond is in good company with other pictures like The Constant Gardener and Hotel Rwanda. Blood Diamond shows us the power of corrupt military revolutions and governments when it comes to the harvesting of conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone, particularly the titular blood diamond; a diamond with a pink hue, bigger than any stone any character in the film has seen before.
The instant problem for me with Blood Diamond is that the film portrays everyone in pursuit of the diamond as being corrupt or vile in some way. The characters are greedy, wanting untold wealth for themselves. This includes lead character Danny Archer, played by the interestingly accented Leonardo DiCaprio. While there can be no denying DiCaprio’s performance is among the better roles of his career, it’s a character with no real redeemable qualities. He begins the movie as a smuggler and dealer, caught moving stones across the Liberian border by sewing them into goat hides – live goat hides. When he finds out about the existence of this large Blood Diamond, he stops at nothing to make sure he’s a part of finding it. Such a mercenary approach leaves Archer as a rather despicable human being through most of the film, making it hard to connect with the character, regardless of how dashing DiCaprio may look.
The opposite, and more humanistic face, of the blood diamond conflict is seen through a more native character, Solomon Bo (Djimon Hounsou). Solomon has had his family torn apart by the military revolutionaries that terrorize Sierra Leone. His wife and daughters are safe in a missionary compound, but his son is being trained by the same revolutionaries that destroyed Solomon’s village. Solomon is more pure than the other characters, motivated solely by his desire to reunite his family, however Solomon is led by Archer to believe that only finding the blood diamond (which Solomon initially mined while serving as a slave to the revolutionaries) will help the man rescue his son. Considering the advice comes from the white man while both characters are serving time in prison, you’d think Solomon would take more caution following it. Instead the two characters are thrown together in search of the same diamond half the country seems to be after, including said revolutionaries and former military friends of Archer.
As mentioned before, nobody in search of the diamond is corrupt or vile, which means a two-hour movie spent watching characters undercut and backstab each other. The poor sportsmanship is intertwined with political statements and reminders of how horrible the conditions are for the native people of the land. Most of the statements come from Jennifer Connolly’s news reporter, a character barely in the film long enough to justify a quasi-romantic relationship with Archer, but who still manages to preach to the audience about the horrors of conflict diamonds every chance she gets.
Connolly’s vocal reminders of the horrors we see and the speeches which set the poltical atmosphere of the story take away from the “show, don’t tell” atmosphere of filmmaking, an incredibly disappointing choice for Blood Diamond. Director Edward Zwick has shown his skill in previous films such as Glory and The Last Samurai at showcasing the beauty of the environments he films in. Sadly, instead of merely letting shocking images speak for themselves, Zwick, and the script by Charles Leavitt, decide to take away from the visual punch with these preachy moments. I have to admit, the result left me slightly offended that the filmmakers decided I wouldn’t “get” the message the movie was attempting to relate and felt they had to spell it out for me.
Don’t take negative criticism of a film to suggest I don’t have sympathy for the lives that have been affected through the harvest and greed surrounding conflict diamonds. They have my utmost sympathy, but not because of Blood Diamond. The film fails in its attempt to connect with the audience, losing its punch and eventually part of its message through an overwhelming need to give sermons instead of actually communicate the horrors of a bad situation.
Blood Diamond is available in both a single disc (widescreen or full screen) edition and a two disc special edition. This is one of those cases where the single disc set is merely the first disc of the bigger set, carrying only the film and a standard commentary from director Edward Zwick. While the single disc is nothing special, the two disc set is even less so, unless you’re one of those people who really enjoyed the continual sermon of the film and wanted more preaching for your money.
Despite being a two-disc set, the bonus materials available on the film’s second disc are still pretty standard and somewhat disappointing. Basically, it’s a two-disc set because the movie is so long. It takes up most of the space on the first disc, which means almost any bonus material must be placed on the second disc.
The heart of the second disc is the documentary, Blood on the Stone, which follows the path of a diamond from ground to store. One of the continually repeated ideas of the movie is that conflict diamonds are easily mixed in with other diamonds once they’ve been smuggled across boarders. This documentary sheds a little more light on this idea and just what goes into that engagement ring you bought for your fiancé (or wear on your own finger). The documentary, which clocks in at less than an hour, is the biggest thing in the set.
The other featurettes on the disc focus more on movie making. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly chime in on creating their respective characters, sharing information about the archetypes their characters fill (female reporter in war time for example). Neither featurette is very long, however, nor is Inside the Siege of Freetown which is a focused look at how one of the bigger effects laden scenes of the film takes place.
For a two-disc set, that’s sadly all there really is worth mentioning. Sure there’s a music video included, as well as the trailer for Blood Diamond. More interesting to me was the brief trailer for this summer’s Oceans 13, another film that may fail to connect with its audience, but at least suggests it will be a little more entertaining and less didactic than Blood Diamond.