Friday, July 18, 2014

Blood Diamond (2007)

Blood DiamondMOVIE: Edward Zwick's films always strike a good chord with me because of their incredible emotional impact. The Last Samurai left such a grand impact on me that I was in tears at its incredible and emotional climax. The Blood Diamond does the same thing by establishing strong central characters with a clear objective that makes the film gripping and tense. The story revolves around Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) a local fisherman whose village is raided by local militia who are at civil war over the control over the diamond fields. These events took place in the late 90's and it serves as the backdrop of the film. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Rhodesian smuggler who works for a corporate diamond company in London he also works as a mercenary. He smuggles diamonds to the corporations so that they can remove them off of the market thus keeping supply low and demand high, that way they spike the prices. After Vendi is removed from his village and his family separated, he is put to work in the diamond fields where he comes across a pink diamond so rare that it could change the fate of not only his life but a nation's. Vandy is able to escape his imprisonment by the rebels but is put in prison by the police, and in prison he meets Danny Archer who now wants to set his sights on the hidden diamond. When Archer meets Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist, she believes that his story holds the key to revealing the truth behind the diamond corporations. When Vandy's son is recruited by the rebels he sets out on a quest to find his son while Archer wants the diamond so that he can leave Africa and start his troubled life over. Arnold Vosloo plays a general who is also after the diamond. So we have four people after one small stone for four different reasons.

The film has many sides to it. At times it's a dark look into the social and economical conflicts of Africa, sometimes it becomes a burning commentary on the nature of man, but overall this film is an intimate story of three characters placed within the setting. The main objective of the film is to tell the story of the characters where as in films like Tears Of The Sun or Black Hawk Down it's more about sending a central message. I'm not saying the latter films are bad, I enjoyed Tears Of The Suns and Black Hawk Down immensely. I'm also not saying that Blood Diamond is not trying to send a central message either. It's just that Blood Diamond really tries to tell a story, just like Zwick did with The Last Samurai. While the film portrayed a civil struggle in Japan it was more focused on Tom Cruise's and Ken Watanabe's characters so that when tragedy struck it had a strong emotional impact on the audience. Blood Diamond is not only emotional but it's incredibly tense and thrilling. There is lots of action in the film and the final air raid was executed perfectly. The story is solid and the film is an immense accomplishment. The reason why I knocked off half a star from my final rating was that I had two minor problems with the movie. There were places where a few tweaks could have heightened the emotional impact of the film and have kept the pace of the film more consistent. However, it is whithout a doubt that the film was superbly edited. The pace and structure were very consistant and strong. I was pleased by the script, Charles Leavitt did a fine job with the screenplay even though he has taken a long break from writing since his last effort with K-Pax. The second thing that bothered me was that once the movie ends and the credits start to roll we are hit with this hardcore rap song. I was absolutely shocked and disapointed with the decision to use rap in the end credits, it ruined the lasting effect of the film within a split second.

The film also displays some incredible artistic efforts. The cinematography is absolutely stunning. There is a very good chance that Eduardo Serra should be one of the directors of photography nominated this year at the Oscars. Some of the shots were truly breathtaking and of course you have to give credit to beautiful landscapes of Africa. The film's score was composed by James Newton Howard who relied heavily on African vocals for the amazing score. I have to mention here that Hans Zimmer is the pioneer of incorporating native sounds into a film's score based on location. Zimmer made African vocals his speciality with films like A World Apart, The Power Of One, The Lion King, and Tears Of The Sun. You have to acknowledge the Zimmer style in the score, but James Newton Howard makes it completely his own and delivers an amazing score. There were scenes where I wished the score was more prominent, but overall I was very happy with the musical efforts. All of the artistic efforts put together with the story make Blood Diamond what it is.

ACTING: Does Leonardo DiCaprio give his best performance yet? In my opinion I really think so. He was amazing in the film and created a perfectly accessible character that we cared for. Many people are criticizing his accent when in fact he is using an extremely authentic Rhodesian accent. People assume that since he is white and an African he must be South African. That's not the case here, people. DiCaprio does an amazing job with the role. Djimon Hounsou is also equally amazing in the film. There are a few intimate scenes with his son that will bring you to tears. He plays an uneducated fisherman with his only interests in his family, but it is his character that shows the good of mankind in the middle of this mess. Jennifer Connelly is a great actress and she portrays a journalist just as a journalist would act. She uses her wits and looks to get the story, but her priorities are not to make headlines but rather to help change the world for the better. Arnold Vosloo has a small role in the film, but I like him and think he's an underrated actor. People will recognize him from The Mummy films and his guest role on the show 24. The acting in this film is superb, the characters all carry the film and make it something to remember.

BOTTOM LINE: Blood Diamond is gripping, thrilling and emotional. I shed some tears when I saw The Last Samurai and I indeed shed some tears when I saw Blood Diamond. It's an action film with so much substance, it really pulls you in as an audience member. The few structural problems and the rap song at the end credits are not enough for me not to highly recomend this film.

I am going to keep this review relevant to the movie and the reasons why you should buy this on DVD:

1. Leonardo DiCaprio's Performance: This film in my opinion features the best ever performance extracted from Leonardo DiCaprio on film. He is flawless here as a South Africa white who needs to discover whether material wealth means more to him than human emotion and sentiment. I have never been a huge fan of Leo (though yes, he was wonderful in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "The Beach") but this film alongwith "The Departed" really opened my eyes. Granted he is a physically splendid creation, but his use of language, intonation and emotion were at the forefront of this movie, and the only downside to his performance is that it totally overshadowed the other actors.

2. Djimon Hounsou's performance : This was an actor I first noticed in "Amistad" and he just keeps getting better and better. He is one actor who looks about 25 even though hes well past 40, and has an incredible range. His role as a traumatized father looking for his son in the middle of riot torn Africa will be remembered years to come, however, he is not as radiant as Leonardo here, and for that reason alone I think he is thought of as a "supporting actor" here. If you pay attention, you will actually see that he gets MORE screen time than Leo.

3. Jennifer Connelly : I think she is one of the most ill-utilized actresses we have today, and the director doesn't do much with her here either, which is a pity. However, her role is quite effective for what it is the downside being that she has zero chemistry with Leo in every regard.

4. Cinematography : The effect here was to present Africa as a beautiful nation though ridden with political problems and woes. To see these violent images portrayed against a backdrop of the most gorgeous sunsets and tropical rainforests was a bit bizarre which I suppose was the effect. The visuals are lush and evocative, and captures the mood of the era and environment perfectly.

5. Direction & Story : The director knew a good thing when he saw it. This is a very character driven story and you have to FEEL for the characters' emotions if you want to get anywhere. On the surface, its a simple tale thats been told a million different ways, but the political statements this movie makes is way ahead of its' time, I thought (much like the Angelina Jolie starrer "Beyond Borders" which was a masterpiece in its' own right).

It goes without saying that Leonardo DiCaprio carries this film on his capable shoulders and takes you through almost three gripping hours of it without making you look at your watch. This is what real acting and filmmaking is all about. If you do decide to buy this, let Leo be your number one reason.

To wrap it up, this is a must have 2-DVD Edition of the film and I can state that this is one movie you will be watching over and over. I saw this just after "The Departed", which is the only other movie this year I could possibly watch again. These two films finally signal the true emergence of America's greatest living actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Buy Blood Diamond (2007) Now

As we reach the end of any calendar year, the major studios roll out their big guns--the films they think have the best chance of grabbing Oscar gold. These tend to be big budget affairs, with big stars, and often with serious or important themes. Well, "Blood Diamond" arrives with just such expectations. A well meaning and "important" film about exploitation and atrocities in Sierra Leone's diamond trade, "Blood Diamond" casts Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djimon Hounsou as the central characters in an exciting, and sometimes heartbreaking, look at the cost of commercialism in international trading.

Edward Zwick (who has courted Oscar before with "Glory" and "The Last Samurai") sets a very serious tone from the beginning--it seems clear that this film wants to parlay a message, to expose the injustices done in the name of Western greed. The setup covers extremely familiar territory and the message is blunt and obvious. No one, at this point, will deny that what is depicted here is harrowing--the problem is that it isn't particularly surprising or edifying. He's preaching to the choir. A lot of films have broken this ground before to astonishing affect, "Blood Diamond" as a message movie lacks a certain amount of originality and subtlety. That doesn't make it a bad movie, by any stretch, but I wasn't enlightened by the subject matter.

But the curious thing about "Blood Diamond," though, is just as I was tempted to dismiss it as a heavy-handed drama--I got wrapped up in it. Why? Well, it's a heck of an action picture and it boasts terrific performances. DiCaprio plays a rogue, ethically challenged, illegal diamond trader who is looking to make a big score. Hounsou, who has lost his son to the rebels, has hidden an invaluable diamond which he hopes to leverage to bring his family back together. And Connelly is an American journalist who wants to expose the corruption inherent in the trafficking of diamonds. All three are at the top of their game. Hounsou is absolutely riveting in an emotional powerhouse of a performance. DiCaprio acquits himself well with a Rhodesian accent and displays many layers to the morally questionable anti-hero.

The film is technically impressive--the cinematography and score earn high marks. But it's the brutal and compelling action sequences that will stick with you. There is much violence to be had in "Blood Diamond," much death and bloodshed. Our trio constantly find themselves on the wrong side of a gun fight or even worse--trapped between rebels warring with soldiers. Theses scenes are done with such precision, such excitement, and such realism--you almost forget that the film wants to teach you a lesson too. I almost wish that Zwick would have just trusted a simpler story and let us draw our own moral conclusions.

Ultimately, I really admired "Blood Diamond"--it has the power to excite you and move you. Far from a perfect film, it is eminently watchable. The tidy ending was a bit over-the-top for my taste, as well, but by then I'd really enjoyed the journey. A solid 3 1/2 star rating, I'm rounding up for the action set pieces. KGHarris, 12/06.

Read Best Reviews of Blood Diamond (2007) Here

Greed is the dark heart of "Blood Diamond," director Edward Zwick's ("The Last Samurai") uncompromising look into the underground trafficking of illegally-traded gems in sub-Saharan Africa. Greed of corrupt men for power, greed of an amoral mercenary willing to sacrifice anything for a chance to escape Africa, greed of Western businessmen who seek to artificially control the diamond market, and the greed of a simple man for his family's return. This movie powerfully demonstrates the valuelessness of a human life to those persons obsessed with blood diamond collection in war-ravaged Sierra Leone.

Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, a simple fisherman and father of two who witnesses his idyllic existence crumble before his eyes. Rebels seeking new recruits, slaves, and random carnage swarm into his village. They select his adolescent son and other young men as future cadets in their guerilla army--following suitable brainwashing and manipulation techniques--before then getting down to the real business of slave collection. Seemingly devoid of any mental workings besides casual sadism, these bandits top-off their kidnapping and slave-taking exercise with the mutilation and execution of men deemed too troublesome for them to bother with. Vandy is rescued from dismemberment at the last minute when the rebels recognize his strength, seeing it as an asset they can utilize in their constant search for capital: the blood diamond pits. Condemned to toiling underneath the blazing sun with nary a chance of reaping any benefit (besides possible continued survival) for his efforts, Vandy happens to discover an egg-sized blood diamond hidden in the streambed. Hiding it underneath his foot, he buries it when the rebel encampment is attacked by government troops. The only witness to his "theft" is the wounded slave captain--now captured, along with Vandy, by government forces--who swears that the former fisherman will soon be begging to reveal the diamond's whereabouts.

Parallel to Djimon's character's storyline is the tale of Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an opportunistic solider of fortune caught within a dichotomy of conflicting motivation. He desires escape from Africa at any cost, yet secretly knows that his blood will someday mix with the earth of his homeland. Perhaps it is this realization that he is doomed which propels Archer forward: in every action and every word, he seems to be daring destiny to obliterate him. Taken in and trained from a young age by Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo), Archer is easily the most dangerous entity alive on the continent: ruthless, misanthropic, callous, manipulative, and incredibly lethal with bullet and blade. After a close-call haggling with rebel leaders over fair prices for blood diamonds, Archer is arrested for smuggling while crossing the Sierra Leone border. It is here that he intercepts the distraught Vandy and begins weaving a plan to save himself from the war-torn country: by dangling the freedom of the fisherman's family as bait to cajole Vandy into revealing the gigantic diamond's location. Solomon, though a simple man, is not so easily fooled. He eventually agrees to help Archer--but only if the mercenary agrees to help locate his family and also permit Solomon to be his travel companion.

There is barely time for indrawn breath during the watching of this movie. Action sequences are furious, brutal, and frequent. The pace of the movie is frenetic. The score is perfect throughout. The "education" of Vandy's son by the rebels is heart-wrenching. Solomon's overarching belief that fatherhood trumps all initially feels naïve, but is eventually revealed to be the singularly most powerful force in the entire movie. Danny's character--the realist mercenary who seems most capable of surviving, when compared to Vandy--shows the most evolution, shedding layers of the personality onion until an actual human appears. He is moved to reveal an element of his past to the beautiful American reporter (Jennifer Connelly), whose persistence and mutual survivorship cements a bond they both were too proud to admit from their first meeting. Archer and Vandy relationship morphs into something beautiful when a sacrifice is needed, prompting Solomon to reverse that remarkably chauvinistic statement made by Rudyard Kipling over one hundred years ago: the "white man's burden."

This is hands-down Djimon's most impressive performance: I have never seen him better represent a character. In fact, he blurs the line between character and actor, totally suspending my disbelief to the point where I "knew" him only as Vandy. I have been told by an acquaintance--currently living in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia)--that DiCaprio's accent is spot-on. In addition, he was utterly believable as heartless mercenary, and his later transformation was also quite convincing. The action sequences were, as mentioned, jaw-dropping in their intensity, but never felt gratuitous or over-the-top.

Easily one of my five favorite movies of 2006--miss it, and you risk missing some of the finest cinematographic wizardry and directorial finesse of cinema from the last year, period.

Want Blood Diamond (2007) Discount?

To be perfectly honest, I had steered clear of this film in theaters because Oscar-nomination notwithstanding I dreaded the notion of potentially spending 143 minutes with Leonardo DiCaprio doing a bad South African accent in Dolby Mondo Super StereoSurround. I mean, I have already in my lifetime endured Kevin Costner's Robin Hood and Brad Pitt's Troy on the big screen (who could forget Brad screaming "Take it it's YAWWWWS!" in his British-by-way-of-Brooklyn accent? And don't even ask me to describe Costner's...). So, even though others assured me that Leo nailed the accent, I hope you can understand why I wouldn't want to risk another American Movie Star Mangling of an overseas accent in a heightened sensory environment.

But now that I've viewed this film in the safety of my own home with my crappy TV speakers (and my pause button at the ready), I must say that not only did DiCaprio nail the accent, but he concurrently crafted his best character and performance to date in Daniel Archer, the jaded, seen-it-all diamond smuggler who just as the main character Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) hides and buries a valuable diamond has hidden and buried his humanity deep within himself. And though he sets off to find Solomon's diamond, we also see whether he can unearth his humanity along the way. Leo adds an amazing muscular menace and aged world-weariness that I honestly didn't think he was capable of (and this is from someone who already appreciated him as an actor) (if not a dialectician).

The performance by Djimon Hounsou as stoic fisherman Solomon Vandy is almost equally stellar. We invest in the quest completely as the wise and quiet Solomon (whose wife calls him "Solo") sets off alone and separated from his family, trying to find his son, who is (to him) infinitely more valuable than the diamond he has buried. Jennifer Connelly (who, unbeknownst to the director, had already done a lot of work with UNICEF when she was cast) also adds depth in what could have been a throwaway and/or cliched role as the brash American photojournalist Maddy Bowen.

Finally, enough cannot be said about director Ed Zwick, who has already spent a good deal of his career perfecting the balance of the action movie and the more contemplative, message-driven drama (Glory, Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai to name a few). With "Blood Diamond," he most successfully negotiates the territory between conventional action movie entertainment and more political, emotional, and darker material.

For the action scenes, the constant camera movement creates not only a documentary feel to the incessant and chaotic scenes of combat, but a sense of urgency to the events (eventually) found in the frame. The violence is almost too real, and the acts perpetrated (in many cases by children) are almost too disturbing such a gorgeous land frames such unspeakably evil acts, which ultimately adds greater weight to the messages of the film.

As to the message, I've heard complaints that this movie tries to bludgeon you with its politics, but I found it to actually be quite subtle, the speechifying kept to a minimum and, when employed, use to enhance and advance the arc/understanding of the character as much as the overarching ideology.

And, for me, the "would you put a diamond on your finger if you knew it cost someone their hand" motif while tremendously important is just one theme among many in this nuanced and layered work. The film also manages to effortlessly examine other issues, such as: what is truly more valuable, material possessions or human empathy? Where is the line between journalism and exploitation, and when is it appropriate (if ever) to cross that line? Finally, can speaking up help change the world, and furthermore can a nation's problems be helped through the advocacy of foreign visitors, who may actually know little about the culture they are trying to change?

While Zwick and his cast may or may not be changing the world with this (mostly) American movie about an African problem, at the very least he has made an exceptionally moving film whether you're in the mood to be educated or entertained.

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