I didn’t see every movie that came out in 2006. In fact, I will never see all the movies that came out in that year, or for any other year. I have a real life (sometimes).
But of all the movies I saw in 2006 A.D., “Blood Diamond” had to be the best. Marline and I knew it before the movie was over. We looked at each other and just knew it.
Why? That’s a something of a harder question to answer. What makes a movie “great,” or “better” than other movies? Different people will give you different answers.
Unlike Citizen Kane, Star Wars, The Matrix, or a dozen other films, Blood Diamond probably won’t change the film industry itself, or the way movies are made. But in terms of impact, it’s a keeper, similar to V for Vendetta (See my review here.)
Blood Diamond, in short, is a movie about a father, a family, a journalist and a scoundrel, set against the backdrop of real life in Africa.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the scoundrel, a part he played admirably well. The father is ably portrayed by Djimon Hounsou. These two main characters get most of the screen time, though Jennifer Connelly is a main contributor as the journalist who helps out the pair of desperate travelers, calming and assisting Hounsou’s character, while adding a moral counter-balance to DiCaprio’s.
Hounsou plays a father whose family is torn apart by the 1990s-era civil war in Sierra Leone, and DiCaprio is basically a lone-wolf mercenary from South Africa who’s out to get rich. For two very different reasons, the two stare death in the face to obtain a rare large uncut diamond, and they can’t do it without the help of Connelly.
Though I’ve read a ton of discouraging crap about how DiCaprio didn’t nail his accent, it sounded right to me (and unlike most Americans, I’ve actually known people from South Africa — in my teenage years, my church’s pastor was a South African native).
And here’s the thing about accents. We always hear disparaging remarks about how American actors don’t quite nail the accent of a foreign country. But no one remarks about how they can’t even get the accents of this country right. How many times have I heard some Yankee screwing up the rich Southern accents? All the time. But they try, and sometimes they get pretty close.
DiCaprio was VERY close in this movie.
A word on DiCaprio. From the beginning of his career, I was against him. I didn’t like him. Probably, it was the movies he made that I didn’t like. Whatever.
But he’s grown on me, a lot. It may be easy for critics to bash The Aviator or The Departed, but they proved this man is one of the strongest up-and-coming actors of our time, and he’s not afraid to tackle the really big roles. In fact, he thrives on them. Catch Me If You Can was another one in this vein.
DiCaprio’s superb acting in Blood Diamond could have carried the film, but it didn’t have to. Hounsou is excellent in his own way, as is Connelly (though I preferred her in Dark City).
The musical score, by James Newton Howard was top-notch, and good enough to move the movie without distracting from it. The cinematography was a blast to watch. The more I learn about photography, the more I’m impressed by the things that Eduardo Serra did with the camera in this movie. There were closeup shots that detailed emotion in a way that’s rare to see, handheld shots that bring the viewer into the movie, and wide, sweeping panoramic views that simply awed me.
Also, the movie was shot digitally, and I saw in a digital-projection theater, which made the movie that much more impressive.
But Blood Diamond’s story is gripping, fearful, and — mostly — true. The backstory of the movie is the “evil” diamond trade, the industry that forces Africans into poverty and war while wealthy citizens in the U.S. and Europe are brainwashed by the advertising to believe that “diamonds are forever,” and that each and every piece of jewelry in the world must contain half a dozen of them.
Of course, not every diamond comes from Africa (believe it or not, Arkansas used to be a great source of these valuable stones). And not every diamond company is involved in the scandalous behavior described in the film (I hope). But it’s hard to know which diamond you’re getting, right?
In the middle of this backdrop is the true emotion of an African father who watches his son get drafted into one of the roving guerilla gangs that terrorized villages and cities in the area. The development of DiCaprio’s character is well-followed too, as he begins to recognize what is right and wrong, and what is necessary to be a good person.
Don’t like violence? Then don’t watch this movie. You’ll get sick from some of the graphic representations of the true-to-life incidents.
But in my opinion, choosing not to watch it is almost an admission that you’re afraid to get emotionally involved in what goes on in the world outside our suburbs. Jaded as I am, I’ll admit that I cringed in places. Other times, I was surprised the overly-conservative MPAA let certain things get through.
Perhaps they recognized the necessity to shock the truth into the viewers.
Was I converted? Sure. But mostly, I was impressed that a movie like this could come out of modern Hollywood, which generally turns out so much time-wasting footage.