Film Reviews

BLOOD DIAMOND

By • Dec 8th, 2006 •

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DiCaprio gives a masterful performance. He’s become a man’s man with a powerful on-screen presence.

Ernest Blom, the president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, said in a 2006 article I read recently (in an airline magazine on my way to South Africa), that conflict diamonds are now all but “an historical fact.”

Blom noted that “In 2000, it came to our attention that trade in conflict diamonds (stones mined in countries at war and sold to fund the war of efforts of an invading army. Key culprits included Angola and Sierra Leone) accounted for as much as 4% of global turnover in rough diamonds.” Blom said the industry was quick to react and formed the World Diamond Council. So successful has this system been that trade in conflict diamonds has been reduced to less than .5% of total global turnover.

Diamonds are a huge commodity and the De Beers Group (that has a near de facto monopoly on the world’s diamond trade and rules the industry by creating an artificial scarcity) doesn’t like these rebel-mined diamonds that support death and civil war, sullying their pristine PR campaign.

Does the consumer care?

I read an article on CNN.com that “in 2005 diamond engagement ring sales totaled $4.5 billion. For the first quarter ended in April, 2005, the New York-based luxury jeweler Tiffany’s said profit was up 8.8 percent from the year earlier. In 2004, U.S. retail sales jumped 14 percent, helped by sales of big rocks. Tiffany said sales of diamond rings over three carats, called “statement” rings, are running strong as are sales of diamond-encrusted “celebration” rings that run from $5,000 to $12,000 a piece.”

Apparently, not many people are concerned that their coveted “bling-bling” status symbol might be a “blood diamond” (tagged by humanitarian groups to garner a negative association), or, a “conflict” diamond (the diamond industry’s more gentle term). Buyers of diamonds don’t care.

I’m surprised de Beers didn’t go with the term “squabble diamonds.”

Imagine how more psychically charged your diamond is (according to statistics, the sale of higher-carat stones has increased dramatically) if it was mined using forced labor and people lost their lives, or an arm, for you to celebrate your engagement?

B.OOD DIAMOND is set in 1999 in Sierra Leone, a country in the throes of civil war. The rebels are mining diamonds and selling them to fund their purchase of guns. These diamonds might be for sale at your mall.

Last week, I was in Botswana. One year after gaining their independence, Botswana serendipitously found diamonds! The government is in 50-50 partnership with de Beers and the economy is thriving.

Survival International, the UK-based indigenous peoples’ advocates, said Botswana had forcibly evicted communities of Bushmen from their homelands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to make way for diamond prospecting.

Zimbabwean Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a diamond middleman. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a good man. He is a poor fisherman with a wife and three children. Caught up in the bloody civil war, rebels take Solomon’s young son. His wife and children are sent to a refugee camp. He is forced into slave labor mining diamonds. His life collides with Archer’s when he finds a rare, 100-carat pink diamond and, risking death, buries it. When Archer hears about the rough stone, he joins up with Solomon – who only wants his family back. Archer wants to get out of the nasty business by selling the diamond. Let’s face the facts: How is Solomon going to sell the stone without Archer’s help?

Solomon knows that his son Dia’s fate is to become a child soldier and he uses his knowledge of where he buried the stone as leverage with Archer. They join forces to find Dia, the stone, and secure Solomon’s family release from the refugee camp.

Archer meets Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist reporting on conflict diamonds. Maddy is quick to size up Archer as a major player in transporting diamonds from the rebels to Amsterdam. Only with Maddy’s status as a journalist can Archer and Solomon navigate the dangerous rebel-held territory. Being on a Time magazine cover or on CNN seduces even the most cruel rebel leader.

There is enough Message here to make Mother Theresa weep from the grave. There is the real brutality of child soldier-killers that might frighten off the now-peaceful Sierra Leone tourism. There is also high-stakes action, danger, tough talk, and the beauty of Africa.

What is really compelling about BLOOD DIAMOND is DiCaprio’s outstanding performance and skillful African accent. He is not afraid to commit to a character that is ruthless, selfish and with a one-goal agenda. His Archer is an un-redemptive, experienced killer slogging through death for a small piece of rock with a big payoff. Hounsou knows he is playing a one-dimensional character of a good man searching for his son. Connelly wisely keeps her flirting to a minimum. While director Edward Zwick can direct epics of this dimension, he has yet to find a screenplay that will galvanize the audience.

What is missing from BLOOD DIAMOND is the consumer. Where were the scenes of movie stars on the Red Carpet and rap stars in their videos decked out in millions of dollars of diamonds?

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