January 5, 2007 -- This political thriller succeeds both as a message film and as an action movie. It highlights several of the many problems going on in Africa, including guerilla armies forcing young boys to become soldiers, the use of diamonds to finance said child armies, and the immoral methods used in the diamond trade to obtain “conflict diamonds” and how the price of diamonds is kept artificially high. The film does a great job of illustrating all these problems while maintaining a high level of tension and action as the characters race through a very dangerous political landscape.
The main characters are Danny Archer (played by Leonardo DiCaprio of “The Aviator”), an ex-mercenary diamond smuggler from Zimbabwe, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou of “In America”), a Mende fisherman. Both men are caught up in the political upheaval of Sierra Leone during the 1990s. Vandy is captured by a rebel army and forced to work as a diamond miner. The diamonds found by the forced laborers are used to finance the rebel army. These diamonds, known as blood diamonds or conflict diamonds are officially banned from the world diamond market, but there is a black market process that allows the diamonds to enter the world's mainstream gemstone market through a back door. The conflict diamonds, indistinguishable from legitimate diamonds, are said to make up about 25 percent of the world's supply.
Archer is caught smuggling diamonds and thrown into jail, where he hears a rebel soldier claim that another prisoner, Solomon Vandy has hidden a huge diamond in a secret place. Archer bails Vandy out of jail and the two become unwilling partners. Archer promises to find Vandy's family if he can get his hands on the big diamond. Archer has a contact, journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly of “A Beautiful Mind”) who can help locate Vandy's family, but she wants a story on the illegal diamond trade. If Archer gives her the story she wants, it could get him killed by the powerful forces that protect the diamond industry. The only thing keeping Vandy alive is the fact that he is the only person who knows where the diamond is hidden. Archer has to keep him alive until he finds the diamond. Archer is also being hunted by a mercenary, Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo), who also wants the diamond. Vandy is being hunted by members of the rebel army, who also want the diamond. Vandy's family is in a refugee camp, except for his son, who has become an unwilling member of the rebel army.
Much of the film depicts flight and pursuit through the jungle, riddled with fighting armies, with Vandy looking for his family, Bowen looking for a story and everyone else after the diamond. This is a high energy movie with a lot of violence, torture, mutilation and death. It also has a powerful message. The acting in the film is first-rate by DiCaprio and Hounsou, with a solid supporting performance by Jennifer Connelly. The villains are also effective, headed by the ruthless mercenary smuggler Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo of “The Mummy”) and the rebel leader Captain Poison (David Harewood). The film is well-written, depicting some heroes who aren't really heroic. Everyone is using everyone else, but some actual heroism seeps through despite their most selfish efforts. This film rates a B+.
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