Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo Dicaprio is startling look at the diamond trade along the Ivory Coast of Africa. It is gritty, violent and realistic, and I believe based on a true story, although we are never quite told that. While it drags on at over two hours and twenty minutes, it is a tale that is not soon forgotten, and quite an eye opener.

Dicaprio plays Ben Archer, a mercenary that got into diamond smuggling. The plot follows the trade of the precious gemstone. Sierra Leone mines the diamonds from the river, but they are banned from exporting them because they are a conflict zone. The Western countries go along with this because in the end it pushes up the prices of the diamonds and is good for their business. Neighboring Liberia, which has no diamonds of its own, exports them by the millions. This is already bad enough.

The real atrocities occur as Sierra Leone, which has a government only on paper, is in a state of borderline anarchy, at least in 1999 when Blood Diamond takes place. Outside the major city, the only law is that of the gun. Warring factions and revolutionary armies inflict torture and killing on towns, and take people as slaves to obtain the diamonds. These then infuse cash into the rebels that can in turn buy more weapons, and thus the cycle continues. Unfortunately for Africa, their own worst enemies are themselves. We see firsthand how little a life is worth in Sierra Leone.

The tale is told as we follow on African, Solomon who is taken to work for the rebels. His family gets divided, and his son turned against him. He crosses paths as Ben Archer hears of a rare, and particularly large, pink diamond comes into his possession. Predictably, the quest to retrieve this exotic diamond involves danger, tenuous partnerships, and some bloodshed.

In my view this film has three weaknesses. The first is that it clearly is too long. While the scenery of equatorial Africa is beautiful, there is too much of it. The movie drags on as we look at scenes that should be on some Discovery HD feature. Also, they could have ended it way sooner. I won’t give it away, but the last fifteen minutes could have ended up on the cutting room floor, and no one would have missed it. The other weakness is that Blood Diamond works a little too hard to try to make us Westerners feel guilty that our obsession with diamonds causes so much misery in the Third World. They admonish us to buy “conflict free” stones, but I can’t even make sure my tuna is dolphin free, and there are no chemical differences, and they get mixed in with the legitimate rocks, so I have no idea, short of mining it myself, how anyone would do that. As I don’t buy jewelry, I have little to be guilty of in this department anyway. The last weakness is that Dicaprio’s character, with his African accent, makes him unintelligible at times. Without the subtitles on the DVD, I would have really struggled to follow the film.

Blood Diamond
is a far more realistic view of Africa than is too often shown in American films, like in Out Of Africa, or even The Constant Gardener. It tells a bloody tale that should not be ignored. If you’re looking for a moral lesson, which will convince you to never purchase a diamond again, (or book a vacation to the Dark Continent), than Blood Diamond is sure to fit the bill.

Overall Grade: B

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