Great chefs know that the best food is usually created using a minimum of ingredients. Even if the ingredients are of the highest quality too many flavors confuses the palate and ruins the meal. So it is in movies. Director Ed Zwick has taken top-flight ingredients—a cast that includes Oscar nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou with Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, beautiful African locations and a worthy story—but he’s too heavy-handed with the spices, and almost ruins the stew.
In the last couple of years there have been many films about Africa’s troubled recent history. We’ve seen Hotel Rwanda, Catch a Fire, The Last King of Scotland even the documentary Shake Hands with the Devil, but none have touched on the trade in conflict diamonds. Set in 1999 Blood Diamond takes us inside the trade of western African in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a South African soldier of fortune that has turned to the lucrative but dangerous job of diamond smuggling between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Busted by border guards and thrown into jail he comes into contact with Solomon Vandy (Hounsou), a fisherman who was enslaved by the radical RUF to work in their illegal mining camps sifting for “blood diamonds” which would then be sold to legitimate sources to raise money for arms. While working at the camp Solomon managed to find and secret away a rare pink diamond the size of a bird’s egg. Archer sees this valuable diamond as his ticket out of war torn Africa. Along the way an American journalist played by Connolly and his growing friendship with Solomon raises his awareness to his part in the horror. It makes for an odd mix of straight out action and social commentary.
Zwick tries to take on the ills of the region—trade in blood diamonds, the use of children in the infantry—coupled with commentary on the West’s exploitation of the continent’s mineral resources, the responsibility of consumers understand the human cost of their purchases as well as the monetary and the personal stories of each of the characters. Throw in an almost love story and you have spoiled the broth with too many ingredients.
Each of the lead actors does good work here—although Jennifer Connolly’s war correspondent must to have an unseen hairdresser traveling with her—and several of the action sequences are spectacular, but in regard to the social and political comment of the film, Zwick seems to have bitten off more than he could chew.