Monday, October 29, 2012

Blood Diamond: Another Socially Conscious Movie That Failed To Make A Difference

The Good: Well-written, Good characters, Decent direction, Social message, Acting
The Bad: Feels a little long/predictable, "The Market" did not "get" it
The Basics: With vivid characters played by some of the best actors in the industry, the true cost of the diamond trade is exposed with brutal clarity for the viewer.

When I saw V For Vendetta (reviewed here!) in theaters, I knew that the movie had essentially failed (despite bringing in oodles of money) because the Revolution did not come. When I spoke with a friend about it, she objected saying that if the Revolution came, she would drop everything in a heartbeat. She was offended when I told her that meant she didn't "get" the movie; the point of it was that WE are the Revolution and that each of us must rise up and lead it, we can't follow it. So, our corrupt government continues to exploit the people and women and men in the United States remain slaves to their jobs instead of the economy serving them. Blood Diamond, which is now out on DVD, is another movie that the American people simply did not "get." I say this because diamonds are still worn by Americans and cherished.

Solomon Bo is an African who is captured by militants and forced to mine diamonds at gunpoint. When he finds a giant diamond, he manages to hide it as a military strike saves him and several other enslaved men. In the holding cell, a guard who saw what Solomon pulled from the earth demands to know what happened to it and this gets the attention of Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler. Archer is sprung from jail by his wealthy patrons and he uses his influence to get Solomon free so they can recover the diamond.

With the aid of a plucky reporter, the two enter a war zone to track down the diamond, which Archer wants for profit, Maddy wants for the story and Solomon wants in order to get his family out of the refugee camp they are (essentially) imprisoned in.

I sat down to Blood Diamond because a friend of mine who pulls movies for me mistook my interest in seeing The Last King Of Scotland for Blood Diamond (don't ask). The thing is, I enjoyed Blood Diamond a bit, though a lot of the information was not new to me. The R.U.F. - the rebel forces - drive into Solomon's village and take his son (and many children) away, where they essentially brainwash the boy into a killing machine. This was something I knew before (and not just from the second season of Lost, reviewed here!) and have been troubled by. Blood Diamond presents the reality of youth enslavement and indoctrination into killing machines with the horror that is mirrored only by its truth. This happens every day while the world sits back and through apathy essentially abets the crimes.

I found myself enjoying the movie despite the humanization of the problem. I understand why writers Charles Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell needed to put a human face on the problem of blood diamonds (diamonds that are smuggled through war zones and laundered into the legal flow of diamonds). Most Americans don't know about the problems and carnage associated with the diamond trade, so it makes perfect sense to indoctrinate them with a story that resonates as personally as possible. When the credits came up and I saw the movie was directed by Edward Zwick, I found myself pleasantly surprised; it made sense the movie so effectively humanized the problem. Zwick is a master of relating stories about human relationships; his show Once And Again (season two reviewed here!) remains one of my favorite series'.

Central to the movie is the relationship between Solomon and Danny and Solomon and his family. Solomon manages the virtually impossible; finding his family in a refugee camp of one million people. The need to save them and rescue them from their status as citizens without nation gives him a compelling reason to go back for the diamond and risk his life. Solomon and Danny have an intriguing relationship as Danny's isolation with the world - his diamond market patron has essentially distanced himself from the smuggler - allows him to open up with Solomon and the probing questions the less morally relativistic man asks him weaken his acceptance in the way things are.

The movie works when it is a brutal social and political commentary on the diamond market with the foils of Danny's greed served opposite Solomon's desire to protect and recover his family and his homeland. Unfortunately, the story diverges for a while in a somewhat predictable and pointless romantic subplot between Danny and reporter Maddy. It makes the story more human and complicated, but not necessarily better. As it is, Blood Diamond clocks in at almost two and a half hours, so the romantic plot is not needed to fill time.

But the movie works because at the end of the day, it can be reduced to the price of one (albeit huge) diamond. Consider the number of people killed, maimed (the opening scenes where the R.U.F. starts lopping off the hands of villagers begins the process of finding the diamond) and wounded combined with the material resources - planes, helicopters, etc. - destroyed to find and retrieve the diamond and the price tag gets truly astonishing. The moralizing that does not appear in the movie is the connection I shall now make:

Diamonds are worthless.

Because there is nothing backing our economy (we are not bound by a gold or silver standard), all that holds together the U.S. economy is faith. The belief in the strength of the dollar defines the value of the dollar. Thus, all $1.00 is worth is what you can buy with it and what you are willing to do for it. I frequently tell my students that working at their minimum wage jobs they are selling their souls for 4 Value Menu hamburgers and hour. None of them ever quit their jobs. But the point holds, which is the purpose behind collective bargaining. If Americans refused to work for less money, the uprising would declare a more balanced value to the dollar because the connection between the life people possess and the acquisition of material things would be made so apparent that only the most apathetic would slave their lives away for so few crumbs from the corporations. Diamonds are dirt. Dirt that is declared as pretty because it is clear and sparkley and . . . honestly I don't know why. Diamonds have value because greedy industries that thrive on them tell the masses they are valuable - one of the most poignant moments in Blood Diamond comes when a character reveals that the rebels want to flood the market with a billion dollars worth of diamonds in order to fund their war. In the face of evidence like that (where such quantity is available), diamonds are no longer valuable based on their rarity. Diamonds are worth what people are willing to pay and what people are willing to do for them.

And the question left unanswered by the audience of the movie is this: Will you have anything at all to do with diamonds, will you perpetrate the myth of their worth, with even the POSSIBILITY that the true cost of your diamond is at least one hundred human lives lost, the enslavement of a people and the perpetration of war and maiming of a less developed nation? As the market has not collapsed, I may only assume people either did not see Blood Diamond or it failed to carry its message in a way that was meaningful enough to resonate with Americans.

I'm not sure what more director Edward Zwick could do to make it resonate with Americans. When you show women and children being slaughtered by men with automatic weapons as part of the system that brings diamonds to the world, there's not much more that can be shown to connect humanity to the problems. I don't believe the failure is Zwick's.

For those considering taking in Blood Diamond, this is not just moralizing, it is an entertaining film. The journey of Solomon Bo is extraordinary and compelling. The characters are all interesting and Solomon and Danny are completely empathetic. This is a movie about how far people will go and they go far.

What makes the characters work is the acting. Stephen Collins has a brief, but memorable, cameo as an Ambassador who is crusading against conflict diamonds and he was well cast for the bit part. Jennifer Connelly gives a great performance here. Given about as much of a role as she had in Dark City (reviewed here!), Connelly gives a supporting performance that is compelling for the audience in that it confronts the issues directly that the other characters live around. Connelly manages to make Maddy slightly more than just a "type" by infusing her strong sense of confidence in her body language into the strong-willed reporter she is embodying. Connelly evokes the essence of a crusader to make Maddy professionally strong and softens to express an underlying loneliness to make Maddy human.

Connelly plays off Leonardo DiCaprio perfectly and DiCaprio is astoundingly good as Danny Archer. DiCaprio defines Danny with an angry expression and constant heat from his eyes that is piercing. The maintenance of this facade is impressive and it does not waver in this movie.

The movie hinges on the acting of Djimon Hounsou. Hounsou came to my attention in the third season of Alias (reviewed here!) where he had such a distinct and memorable role that it astounds me to find he was only in 3 episodes. His presence was much bigger than that. Hounsou reveals the depth of his acting ability in Blood Diamond by creating an essential human character with such decency and grace that there's not even the hint of the heavy he played on Alias. That's acting: to create two entirely opposite characters and make both vividly believable.

Blood Diamond is reminiscent of the truly amazing film The Mission from the 1980s. The Mission (reviewed here!) explored the church conflicts that resulted in the enslavement of natives in South America. One wonders if The Mission had been made while the events in it were current if it would have had an effect, if it would have stopped the carnage. The events in Blood Diamond are going on now. The question must be asked, can the exposure of these truths to the masses stand as the wake-up call to stop this carnage? I wait, astonished that the diamond industry continues to thrive; were I Zwick I would have hoped by the time the film was released on DVD, the industry would have collapsed.

For other works with Stephen Collins, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Three Stooges
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia - Seasons 1 & 2
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
All The President’s Men


Check out how this film stacks up against the others I have reviewed by visiting my ever-growing Movie Index Page where the reviews are organized from best film to worst!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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