Whatever one may have thought about Leonardo DiCaprio prior to this film, it must be revised after seeing it. If you liked his work before, this performance will elevate him further in your esteem. If you had doubts about his abilities - as this reviewer did - "Blood Diamond" will dispel them. The story of a civil war in the manufactured African nation of Sierra Leone, the film is nearly an art form of modern power struggles. Violence is endemic, with meaningless killings, abduction of children to become soldiers and the waning light of justice in a world of social disruption.
DiCaprio, in the character of Danny Archer, for all the strength of his depiction as a trader, remains a middle level figure in the sweeping picture of the diamond trade. Rebel armies have become mining managers as well as guerrilla fighters. Villages are raided for workers and soldiers, leading to fisherman Solomon Vandy [Djimon Housou] being taken for the one and his son Dia for the other. It's hard to know which scenes are more wrenching, the harsh discipline of the mining or the terror conditioning of the boy soldiers. Solomon is revealed as having found a priceless diamond while he and Archer happen to be in the same gaol. Archer sees an opportunity and takes up with Solomon, who is seeking his lost son.
The interaction between the two men, with its added fillip of the white's dependency on the African, is almost serpentine. We never really learn if Solomon expects to trade the diamond for his son, or use it to reunite and enrich his entire family. Archer, under the tutelage of a mercenary colonel [with which Africa seems surfeited], must maintain a precarious balance. That delicate role is complicated further when he meets a journalist with a sense of mission. Watching this film the second time with Zwick's commentary on how Jennifer Connelly built the role of Maddy Bowen from accounts of women journalists in war zones is more than just informative. It gives vivid credence to the wonderful scene where Bowen "disarms" a group of threatening rebels with her camera.
To reach that point, Zwick and his production team have produced a stunning array of images. From the grandeur of African landscapes in Mozambique, South Africa, Sierra Leone to the intimate close-ups of both major and minor characters, this film is exemplary cinematic drama. Zwick's description of what had to be done to keep the film's impact strong without harm coming to the participants is enlightening. That Housou and DiCaprio insisted on doing many action shots on their own instead of using stuntmen must have aged the director measureably. What some of the battle scenes might have done to the extras, who were acting novices, is beyond description. Zwick's selection of a 12-year-old music and drama student to play the child soldier is indicative.
The denouement of this film is very nearly "Hollywood pap", but not quite. The fate of Solomon and Dia, of Danny Archer, but mostly that of the diamond, are suffused with ironies. While Zwick may not deserve credit for instigating changes in the diamond industry, the efforts of people such as Connelly portrayed most certainly do. It's encouraging that a film such as this could come out of Hollywood instead of a European studio. Hollywood may be shedding its fear of reality. One can only hope that audiences can cope with it as well. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]