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(2006) (Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou) (R)

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Dramatic thriller: A drug smuggler teams up with an African fisherman to find a rare diamond that both hope will answer their respective wants and needs.
It's 1999 and African Danny Archer (LEONARDO DiCAPRIO) is a former mercenary turned diamond smuggler who knows all of the angles and right people -- such as Colonel Coetzee (ARNOLD VOSLOO) -- to get the stones from Sierra Leone to his main company buyer back in London, Van de Kamp. While he's aware of the rebels in the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) using slave labor as well as young boys as soldiers in their efforts to find the diamonds that they'll turn around and sell for additional weaponry, he's only looking out for himself and views them as collateral damage.

That is, until he teams up with local fisherman Solomon Vandy (DJIMON HOUNSOU) whose village was overrun by rebels who then enslaved him and displaced his family, including wife Jassie (BENU MABHENA) and son Dia (CARUSO KUYPERS). When both men end up in jail for different reasons, Danny overhears that Solomon reportedly found a large, rare, and thus valuable diamond.

Sensing that could be his ticket off the continent and realizing Solomon needs it to help locate his family, Danny proposes an offer the father can't refuse -- take Danny to the diamond and he'll help Solomon reunite with his wife and kids. Of course, little does either realize that rebel leader Captain Poison (DAVID HAREWOOD) has taken Dia under his wing and brainwashed him into being one of his young soldiers.

As the two disparate men become unlikely partners, Danny enlists the aide of American photojournalist Maddy Bowen (JENNIFER CONNELLY), an idealistic but realistic reporter who thrives on danger and wants to nail the people at the top of what's called the "blood diamond" trade. But she needs names, and Danny offers to help her only if she assists him. With the three agreeing to deliver what the others need, they set off to find the stone, all while dealing with various obstacles and predicaments in their way, including Poison and his rebel forces.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In today's increasingly materialistic world, most consumers are unaware of and/or don't care how their goods are gathered, manufactured, or shipped to them. And the greater the value of said property and the desire to have it, the less people seem to think about the details. As long as they can get their hands on whatever it might be -- from rare delicacies to designer attire and exotic cars -- they're happy. Ignorance might be bliss for the partaker, but that's obviously not usually the case for those behind the scenes.

That was especially true in the late 1990s regarding the African diamond trade, where such former pieces of coal helped fuel civil wars and slave labor to the point that the stones became known as blood diamonds. That's the backdrop for Edward Zwick's dramatic thriller of the same name. In it, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a former mercenary turned diamond smuggler, Djimon Hounsou a local fisherman whose life is upended because of such activity, and Jennifer Connolly a reporter who wants to blow the whistle on the practice and expose not only the wrongdoers, but also the damage they've caused.

The result is a fairly engaging film that might not go much deeper than a superficial approach in terms of the ethnic, social, and political underpinnings and ramifications of such a trade. Yet, it works from the aspect of a personal examination of DiCaprio and Hounsou's characters as polar opposites who end up needing each other to get what they desire.

For the former, that's a rare stone that might just get him off what he sees as a Godforsaken continent that the Almighty abandoned a long time ago. Despite what seemed like a shaky accent from the film's trailer, DiCaprio not only nails the dialect -- his character is from Zimbabwe although he still refers to it as Rhodesia -- but also the attitude and demeanor of such a man involved in such a profession. The actor continues to impress with his range, and while his damaged soul character might not be likable, DiCaprio certainly makes him compelling and engaging.

Hounsou easily stands toe to toe with his more famous counterpart playing the local fisherman who's enslaved by the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) as a diamond sifter and spends most of the film trying to find his displaced family. Unbeknownst to him, his young son (Caruso Kuypers) has been kidnapped and brainwashed by a rebel leader (a menacing David Harewood as the appropriately named Captain Poison) into becoming yet another child soldier.

That latter part is another story element that could have been explored in greater depth, especially since Connolly's character serves as the film's moral compass in capturing and hoping to shed light on such atrocities. Yet, Zwick -- working from Charles Leavitt's screenplay -- seems more intent on making a dramatic thriller that coincidently or purposefully happens to continue a recurring theme in some of his work -- a particular and violent ethnic tale told through the eyes of a white man.

As Hounsou's character states at one point, he can understand people wanting his country's goods, but he can't understand what his people are doing to each other. Of course, the difference between this film and "The Last Samurai" or "Glory" is that the white dude isn't the savior called in to lead the indigenous non-white folk to victory.

Instead, he's part of the problem. By being forced to deal with Solomon and his predicament (he needs him to find the previously buried diamond that will serve as his ticket out), however, he finally experiences the atrocities he obviously knew existed, but purposefully turned both a blind eye and deaf ear.

But Archer doesn't have much time to contemplate that, as the socio-political themes make way for the big action sequences that fuel most of the film's final act. His enlightenment and subsequent development of something resembling a conscience, though, replaces the former fuel -- greed and self-preservation -- that powered his quest to help Solomon find his family.

Beyond addressing the titular issue, the film might not do much in terms of fully addressing the cause and effect, but it does provide a showcase for DiCaprio and Hounsou to flex their acting muscles and Zwick to create some exciting action and thriller sequences. Not as sharp or brilliant as it might have been, "Blood Diamond" nevertheless is a cut above much of its competition this time of year. It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed December 6, 2006 / Posted December 8, 2006

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