Saturday, February 03, 2007

Blood Diamond - Action Movie or Polemical Drama?

It's all too easy to dismiss Ed Zwick's film as the latest in a long line of African morality tales as seen through white western eyes in the tradition of Hotel Rwanda, Shooting Dogs, The Constant Gardener and The Last KIng of Scotland. The didactic message of such works is obvious - terrible things go on in Africa, for which the rich world is either partly to blame or at best indifferent to. Furthermore celebrities like Madonna, Bob Geldof and Bono get slated by the media for jumping on the African bandwagon while conspicuously flaunting their own wealth. These individuals are certainly guilty of a degree of hypocrisy, but at least they have succeeded in bringing such issues into the global spotlight - ie if they kept their mouths shut the broader public would be ignorant as to what's going on in Africa.

Blood Diamond manages to be both entertaining and informative, despite its implausible plot. Leonardo Di Caprio with a convicning accent slips easily into the role of Danny Archer, a South African diamond smuggler sent to war-torn Sierra Leone by his unscrupulous masters who develops a crisis of conscience over the morality of his actions. Djimon Hounsou as Solomon Vanda, a Sierra Leonean fisherman separated from his family in the mayhem of war who is abducted by the rebel militia and forced to mine for diamonds. Honsou's performance as the desperate father and husband anxious to be reunited with his family is superb, even though his muscular figure seems somewhat unrealistic for an impoverished African.

It is the unlikely pairing of Archer and Vanda in their quest for a hidden diamond which forms the basis of the plot. There is a great deal of violence in the film, which although not unusual in the depiction of a bloody and brutal war is at times unnecessary. There are scenes which descend into unconvincing Rambo-style shoot-outs from which Di Caprio always seemd to emerge unscathed. One highly effective scene however portrays a prolonged gun battle between government troops and rebels in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. For a full five minutes of non-stop action the audience's ears are bombarded with the sound of gunfire and explosions which is then followed by an eerie calm brilliantly captured by an aerial shot of the city with plumes of smoke rising from the buildings.

Jennifer Conelly as crusading American journalist Maddy Bowen determined to expose the evils of the African diamond trade to the world is the conscience of the film. Her role as the nice middle class white girl out to help the poor Africans and bring the big bad diamond traders to justice rather than "sipping lattes and discussing interest rates", as she put it is a little too sickly sweet however. Despite getting into constant scrapes under the hot African sun and roughing it through the jungle Connelly remains immaculately turned out throughout in neatly pressed clothes free of any stains or rips, with not a single hair out of place, nor a drop of sweat. Minor details such as these detract from the overall realism of the film. Nevertheless the basic message is well put across. It was in the interests of European diamond traders to keep the war in Sierra Leone going so that smugglers could collect the "blood diamonds" from rebel forces and make handsome profits from the jewellery markets of London and Antwerp.

Although the main moral aim of the film is to open the viewer's eyes to the terrible things caused by the trade in coflict diamonds, (a practice which has now been banned by the international community, as we are told in the closing credits), its other theme is the induction of children into the theatre of war. Solomon Vanda's youg son, Dia is kidnapped by rebels who brainwash and turn him along with a number of other boys into a killing machine. There are still several thousand boy soldiers fighting wars across Africa according to the footnotes of the end titles.

Some of the location filming in South Africa, Mozambique and Sierra Leone itself is spectacular, urging the audience to wonder how such terrible things can happen in such a beautiful place. For anyone unfamilar with the subject matter Blood Diamond does a good job of explaining the complexities of what went on in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s and indeed the horrors what still goes on in many other African countries, which despite their abundance of valuable natural resources remain ravaged by poverty and warfare.

1 comment:

Lorainne said...

I enjoyed the film - it was an action movie with a definite message. However seeing Leonardo Di caprio so often emerge unscathed from a hail of bullets did stretch my imagination a bit!!!

Glad they have banned the trade in conflict diamonds. This means I can hope for a guilt-free diamond filled engagement ring one day soon...