Wednesday, December 13, 2006

REVIEW: Blood Diamond

Let us now consider the Paradox of Edward Zwick. Zwick is a moderately-prolific filmmaker of great talent, who specializes in grandly-mounted sagas which also function as "issue" films. He is, demonstrably, so determined that the audience recieve the messages he aims to impart that he is willing to build expensive mass-appeal action/dramas around them. The paradox is as follows: Zwick's films are too often concerned TOO much with making the message as accesible to his primarily Western/European audience; to the extent that despite often being based in fascinating stories of African-American ("Glory,") Japanese ("The Last Samurai,") or African ("Blood Diamond") history, they twist and contort themselves into a gangly mess in order to spotlight a white/western hero.

"Blood Diamond," ostensibly an action thriller set amid the world of Seirra Leone "conflict diamond" (diamonds mined and sold to the West in order to finance guerrilla terrorist groups) smuggling in the 1990s, thusly becomes Zwick's latest well-intentioned exploration of a theme which can easily be summarized by paraphrasing Homer Simpson's thoughts on alcohol: "White people: The cause of AND solution to all of life's problems."

The ever-commanding Djimon Honsou technically drives the plot as a poor African fisherman shanghaied into mining the titular diamonds by a savage gang of terrorists. When he finds stone of incredible size and worth, he hides it and runs away, aiming to use his find as leverage to reunite his war-displaced family (including a son who has been brainwashed into the guerrilla's squad of "child soldiers.") But the film focuses it's "hero arc" and lead story on Leonardo DiCaprio as a South African mercenary turned diamond smuggler who offers to "help" Honsou, seeing a 50/50 split of the diamond as his ticket out of war-torn Africa. So determined is the film that DiCaprio remain at it's narrative focus that it provides him a love interest: Jennifer Connelly as, yes, a Crusading Journalist who (say it with me now) Is Looking For THE STORY To Make America Care.

So, yes, once again we have the troublesome case of a film which is technically superb and even rousing as an above-average action peice; but is so determined to Make. People. CARE. that it undermines it's own overall effect by embracing unnecessary familiarity and rigidly formulaic story beats. So, yes, just looking at what the film wants you to feel and the lineup of characters delivers an instant roadmap of every single thing that will happen. You know who will live, who will die, and what will transpire along the way. You'll know the precise plans and fates of our two villians, (one white, one black) and everything else that will occur over the course of the feature.

None of that, of course, is meant to suggest that "Blood Diamond" isn't a good film, it is. It's just not the GREAT one it could have been if it had put the focus where it belongs (on Honsou's character) and not been so committed to such a tired Issue Movie formula. There's great stuff in there, the highlights being the chilling scenes of the terrorist indoctrination used to create the Child Soldiers and Honsou's overdo chance at getting to do something at the arrival of the third act. The pace is tight, considering it's a fairly lengthy story, and Zwick remains a criminally underrated director of action.

One of these days, Zwick WILL top "Glory" and make the Movie of His Career, and it'll be the day he redisovers the desire to make the audience care as much about the MOVIE in equal proportion to the desire to make them care about the issue.