Leonardo DiCaprio …. Danny Archer
Djimon Hounsou …. Solomon Vandy
Jennifer Connelly …. Maddy Bowen
Kagiso Kuypers …. Dia Vandy
Arnold Vosloo …. Colonel Koetzee
David Harewood …. Captain Poison
Benu Mabhena …. Jassie Vandy
Anointing Lukola …. N’Yanda Vandy
Warner Brothers presents Blood Diamond. Written by Charles Leavitt. Running time: 143 minutes. Rated R (for Strong Violence and Language). Released on DVD: March 20, 2007. Available at Amazon.com.
It’s interesting how director Edward Zwick is able to divide audiences with his films. Some look at them as exploiting real life events to retell them with a western twist, while others enjoy how he’s able to craft new stories out of old ones. Because movies aren’t meant to show the real world, that is what a documentary is for, movies are suppose to take those real world issues and work them in to their fantasy world to teach audiences without them knowing.
Blood Diamond is a movie focusing on the civil war that broke out in Sierra Leone over conflict diamonds that were sold illegally to fund the war effort. We see how this form of trade has left millions homeless, dead, or forced to kill their own people. It’s a terrifying event that still affects the citizens over there to this day. The film takes that event and, as director Zwick has done in the past, amps them up so that modern audiences can be both informed and entertained. It tries to be a message film hidden inside of a blockbuster.
It opens with Solomon Vandy, a simple fisherman whose village is invaded by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and is both separated by his family and forced in to slave labor to help find diamonds, which are then traded for firearms and ammunition. While working the diamond fields he comes across a large diamond roughly the size of an average thumb. Knowing that a diamond like that would give the vandals enough money to fund their terror for countless more years, he does what any man in his situation would do, he hides it from his captors. Only he doesn’t have long to hide it, as the government forces move in to the operation planning to arrest the RUF. Since they can’t tell the prisoners from the RUF, they also take the innocent citizens to jail as well, and that includes Solomon.
And it’s there where he unknowingly is discovered by Danny Archer, a man whose attention is only drawn to one thing; money. And when he hears about the stone that Solomon has hidden away, he makes it his primary goal to befriend Solomon long enough to get his hands on the diamond and retire early. And he uses Solomon’s one weakness to persuade him into leading him to the diamond’s whereabouts — his family. After getting out of jail, Danny meets an intrepid journalist by the name of Maddy Bowen, who is working in the area in hopes to bust the blood diamond trade wide open. He proposes that he’ll give her all the information she needs to blow the lid off the conflict diamond trade if she helps him get to where Solomon can find his family and, in turn, lead him to where he hid the diamond. And it’s then were all three are set off to find what they’re looking for — a diamond, a family, and a story.
Let me start off this part of the review with this: The movie would have benefited greatly with a slimmed down runtime. The nearly two and a half hour film feels like it. Only the last hour seems to fly by, while the first ninety minutes drag their feet before they finally kick start the story. Yet, if it weren’t for that slow build, we would never form the connection with the characters that we need. A bit of a Catch-22, huh? There’s certainly a valid argument that could be made about this film cutting out fifteen minutes of non-important story that would have tightened up the pace and made it flow faster, but one could counter that those fifteen minutes add a lot of texture and depth to the film as a whole. The story takes it time to build, peeling away at layers of our leads and by the end we’re given a valid connection with all three main characters, along with all of the smaller roles that also populate the movie.
Blood Diamond shows us what wonderful performances can do when a story isn’t quite what it could be. DiCaprio has once again topped himself here. For the past few years now it feels like many critics, including myself, have been praising each new DiCaprio performance as his crowning achievement. From Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Catch Me if You Can, The Departed and all the way up to his work here have been incredible. These are performances that any actor would like to have one of on his resume, let alone all five in a row.
Danny Archer is a very compelling character. He’s a white mercenary from Rhodesia who’s only in this line of work because it’s what comes natural to him; it’s what he does best. He loves his country and hates seeing what is happening around him but is left struggling behind a stone face through which he’s never able to show emotion, especially given the fact that he gains due to the continents loss. It’s only around Maddy where he even allows the tinniest bit of humanity to show through.
Djimon’s performance here was also deserving of his Academy nomination. And it’s a shame that he was overlooked because while on paper the role is one we’ve seen countless times before which have been used as Oscar bait, this performance feels real. Hounsou brings something with his performance that radiates off the screen.
Another important thing to note is the action sequences, which seem to have a much stronger impact on the viewing experience. Unlike a more recent film like Smokin’ Aces where it’s more style over substance. No, the action scenes here all have a purpose in terms of both the cultural impact as well as how they affect the characters and their journey. And why does it feel like that? Because they had people who worked on such cinematic feats like United 93, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, and Black Hawk Down.
In the end, Blood Diamond seems a tad bit overambitious and underdeveloped. The director seem to feel obligated to give us countless bits of information about the troubles that were ailing places like Sierra Leone at the time, but most never pay off in the end. Which is admirable given how important the subject matter really is, but really hurt the story he’s trying to tell with these characters. Thankfully the performances are able to keep you interested through the slow spots and, in the end, make the film worth seeing.
(Presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)
Being a brand new release, it’s almost a given that the picture quality is nearly flawless. In fact, some scenes look immaculate, showing what might just be the limitations of what DVD can offer. However, some parts of the film aren’t as impressive. The beginning has a very off putting amount of haloing and grain, and at fist I was afraid the whole movie would be like that but after the first ten minutes it hardly ever appears again leading me to believe it might have been a slight compression problem. There are also a few scenes where blacks seem to be a bit blue but may have been an intended affect, seeing as the entire movie is very styalized.
(English, French, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround)
Wow. So while the video will certainly leave you in awe, the sound option will enhance the movie watching experience even more. Bullets are whizzing by you through all five speakers, you’ll feel like your walking down the crowded streets of Freetown. The audio track makes you completely immersed in to the film and that is exactly what the surround sound option is meant to achieve. That’s the kind of mixing work that all people should be striving to make. This is a nice example of what could have been a basic action movie mix going above and beyond the call of duty.
(Note: Everything included on the first disc of this set is also on the single disc release.)
Feature Length Commentary – Director Edward Zwick does the track solo and keeps things going smoothly for the films intimidating two hour and twenty-four minute runtime, hardly ever leaving a moment of dead air. Only pausing so that the listener can hear certain lines of dialogue or view an actors mannerisms that he points out as noteworthy. He talks about many of the technical behind the scenes stuff, like how they filmed very little of the actual film in Sierra Leone because the area is still to this day recovering from the same subject matter the film focuses on. Other things mentioned are how he worked out the style, structure and pace of the dialogue, the musical score composed by James Newton Howard, the actors and how they prepared for their roles and how important it was to have the visual effects to go completely unnoticed by the audience.
This track might leave many people slightly depressed. Not because of the subject matter, but because it will remind you just how insightful and informative a Warner Brothers DVD commentary can be and how they seem to be almost non-existent on their recent high profile releases.
Also incuded is the Theatrical Trailer (2:04).
Blood on the Stone (50:11) – While Blood Diamond spends most of its time showing the trouble with conflict diamonds and ends telling us about the measures that have been implemented to stop them, Blood in the Stone shows us just how easy it is to still have those diamonds sold illegally four years removed from when the Kimberly Process was put in to place. Hosted by Sorious Samura, who served as a consultant on the movie and was one of the last few journalists left in Freetown when the RUF invaded, this documentary takes a look at just how well the Kimberly Process has been at keeping conflict diamonds out of circulation. For those who don’t know, the Kimberly Process a movement through which it is required that diamonds must be certified before being sold. As of now, forty-five nations have signed on. Samura investigates their claims about 99.99% of all diamonds sold are legally transfered as he follows an uncertified diamond (not a conflict one) to see how easy it is to sell to dealers without the Kimberly seal.
The one downside to this documentary is that there are no English subtitles included (yet French ones are) and the speakers dialect at times becomes difficult to comprehend.
Becoming Archer (8:32) – DiCaprio talks about how he liked the role because it was more about the struggle in Africa as a whole and only uses the conflict diamond angle as a way to show people the broader problems that were plaguing the area. He speaks about the character Danny Archer and his point of view on why the character makes the decisions and actions that he does, along with how he battles with them internally. We get a look at some of the training that Leo went through in preparation for the role, mostly about handling multiple firearms. The vast sum of this extra focuses on just how dedicated Leo was to both the film and the role.
Journalists on the Front Line (5:12) – This featurette is about Jennifer Connelly’s preparation for the role of a print journalist. She talks about how she viewed the role as an exciting challenge and spoke with many female writers about their job and was both surprised and impressed at how feisty and into the adventure of it all they were. Also here are Edward Zwick and several producers who talk about modern day journalism and the trouble writers have in getting the full story out when most of the main media outlets are owned by big corporations. Sadly, it’s very short and spends a lot of the time recycling footage from the film.
Inside the Siege of Freetown (10:27) – Here we’re given a look at how the crew prepared for the big action scene in the movie that tries to recreate the actual battle that happened in Freetown in January of 1999. We see them try to make the scene cinematic and entertaining while also paying respect to those who were killed in the shootout. They show us the stunt work that went in to it, along with some of the storyboards that were made to help choreograph what was happening in each shot. Sadly, they don’t quite go in to the how things were actually filmed. Which is a shame because that is what takes everything together and adds to the tension by making it feel real and visceral. The lucid, yet chaotic, documentary style they went with puts viewers in to the frey and it’s a shame they don’t show how they were able to pull that part off.
Lastly, we have a Music Video for Nas’ song “Shine On ‘Em.”
|The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Blood Diamond: Two-Disc Special Edition
||RATING(OUT OF 10)
||8(NOT AN AVERAGE)|