Generally entertaining political actioner about diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone, though it rarely escapes Hollywood’s fetishised view of a bloodshed-laden Africa.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly
Plot: Set against the backdrop of the chaos and civil war that enveloped 1990s Sierra Leone, an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, and a Mende fisherman’s fate collide. Despite their drastically opposing histories, they must cross enemy lines to recover a rare pink diamond.
Awards: Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
Distributor: Warner Bros
Subject Matter: Moderate – Diamond Smuggling; Civil War
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Made as a follow-up to his successful Tom Cruise-starring vehicle, The Last Samurai (2003), Edward Zwick goes to Africa in search of a story about diamond smuggling. What we get is a political actioner, set in Sierra Leone (but shot in South Africa and Mozambique) that is solidly executed and generally entertaining.
With Leonardo DiCaprio at the helm playing a shifty smuggler, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor over his turn in Scorsese’s more well-regarded The Departed, and Djimon Hounsou (best known for 1998’s Amistad by Spielberg), who plays a father whose family is torn apart by a violent incursion, Blood Diamond is blessed with two actors who are capable of top-notch physical performances.
“Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other? Then I look around and I realise… God left this place a long time ago.”
Even though there are surprisingly quite a number of action sequences in the film (which if you think about it would make Leo an action star—and indeed he does evade gunfire and explosions as efficiently as Cruise), Zwick focuses mostly on the dramatic tension of crossing enemy lines to retrieve a buried prized diamond out of the country.
Ultimately, Blood Diamond tries to deal with bloodshed-laden Africa in the only way that Hollywood knows—which is to simplify it into an ‘internal problem’, and then fetishise the problem through its obligatory scenes showing the suffering of Africans.
As viewers, we are none the wiser though we are of course entertained. For a more potent take on civil war and child soldiers in Africa, albeit slightly less mainstream, look no further than Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation (2015).