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Uncivil Engagements 

The best moment in director Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond comes when the three heroes, a black man and a white man and woman, are slogging their way through the dangerous African bush in a war-torn land. Suddenly and without warning, they are surrounded by hostile men armed with automatic weapons. Local militia protecting their nearby village, someone decides, and the travelers quickly identify themselves as not part of the revolutionary guard and just as quickly declare themselves as not with the government military either. The scene will remind cinephiles of John Sayles' Men with Guns. All over the world, innocent people are caught in the middle of violent power struggles. One side may preach redistribution of wealth and the other side may promise order and the rule of law, but neither side is concerned with the interests of the people in the center. If they did, they would figure out how to help people rather than kill them. Unfortunately, the heady promise of this scene in the bush isn't entirely realized in the whole of the film.

Written by Charles Leavitt and set amid imagined but fact-based events in Sierra Leone in 1999, Blood Diamond is the story of three very different individuals who join forces in pursuit of a pink diamond about the size of a jacks ball. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an illicit arms trader and soldier of fortune who is trying to make a score big enough to retire. Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) is a freelance writer looking for a breakthrough story on the illegal diamond trade. And Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a local villager who dares to dream that his 12-year-old son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers), will grow up to be a doctor.

The action starts when Solomon's village is attacked by the Revolutionary United Front, who machine-gun people at random. Solomon's wife and daughter manage to escape, but he and Dia are captured. Captives are murdered or maimed at random. But because of his size and strength, Solomon is sent to a sluice mine as an R.U.F. slave. Dia, meanwhile, is "drafted" into an army of pre-teen boys. While working in a muddy river under armed guard, Solomon finds the huge pink diamond and manages to bury it in a river bank just seconds before government soldiers disrupt the mining operation and arrest everybody, including the slaves. In prison, Solomon meets Danny, who is incarcerated for smuggling. Pretty soon, they are free and off to collect the diamond. Maddy, who met Danny earlier in a bar, insists on going along. If all of this sounds improbable and clunky, it is.

The whole idea that a man could dig a hole in the mud of a riverbank to bury a rock the size of marble, get carted hundreds of miles away, then come back later to find what he buried is pretty preposterous. But that's just a core flaw that's supported by sundry other weaknesses. It seems unlikely that the government would let Danny out of prison in the first place and, given the attendant chaos, even less likely that Danny could then orchestrate Solomon's release, although Solomon's arrest hasn't made sense from the outset. For that matter, it stretches credulity that the rebels don't kill Solomon since sluice mining hardly requires a man of his physique. On their journey from prison to burial ground, the three travelers stop by an orphanage run by a man who cares for the child victims of the civil war. Except perhaps to establish that somebody in this country is a good person, we have no idea why this interlude is in the movie or why the orphanage master agrees to drive our heroes out into territory he knows to be dangerous. In order to understand Danny's mindset, the script expects us to know the history of Rhodesia's transformation into Zimbabwe and the politics of the war in Angola. Most viewers won't meet the requirement.

Edward Zwick's career got a terrific boost in the 1980s when he and producing partner Marshall Herskovitz created TV's Emmy-winning Thirtysomething. Shortly later, he made the superb personal drama Leaving Normal. He also made Glory, The Seige and Courage Under Fire, all of which attempt to combine the contemplation of serious moral and political issues within the framework of a conventional commercial motion picture. That's exactly what he's doing here. Diamonds are a bloody business which have indeed spawned and financed vicious civil wars. And the practice of recruiting and training children to turn machine guns on their countrymen is a tragedy and an outrage. But Blood Diamond tries to tackle problems so vast and complicated they probably can't be condensed to feature-movie length. As a result, the picture is over-long and still sometimes hurried. In perhaps trying to serve the film's thematic ambitions, the plot is unconvincing all the while the action sequences and unresolved stab at romantic convention rob the film's seriousness of much of its weight.

click to enlarge In Blood Diamond, smuggler Danny (Leonardo DiCaprio) - and Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) form an odd alliance to - recover a coveted diamond in the midst of civil war in Sierra - Leone. - JAAP BUITENDIJK
  • Jaap Buitendijk
  • In Blood Diamond, smuggler Danny (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) form an odd alliance to recover a coveted diamond in the midst of civil war in Sierra Leone.
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