leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Edward Zwick brings unimpeachable good intentions to his film about the bloody underbelly of the international diamond trade, but when social conscience jockeys for attention with movie-star glamour, glamour always wins. The result is a rip-snorting adventure set against the backdrop of African misery. Set in 1999, it charts the intertwined destinies of two Africans, Mende fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) and Rhodesian mercenary Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio). Danny smuggles diamonds out of Sierra Leone, where gems help finance the brutal civil war that keeps its citizens poor and terrorized. Solomon only wants to provide for his family and make sure his bright 12-year-old son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers), gets the education that will ensure him a better future. But violence is never far away, and Solomon's village is attacked by the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel army whose ranks are filled with dead-eyed child soldiers and whose tactics include lopping off the hands of suspected government supporters. Solomon's wife and children escape, but Solomon is captured and escapes mutilation only because volatile Captain Poison (David Harewood) needs strong workers for the diamond fields that keep his men in automatic weapons. Solomon finds a huge pink diamond and manages to hide it, but an attack on the mining camp lands him in a Freetown jail alongside the wounded Poison. Danny gets wind of the fabulous rock and has the European connections to cash in and his mentor, Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo), wants a cut, while Solomon only wants to find his wife and children, unaware that Poison has kidnapped Dia and is turning him into a child soldier. Danny, meanwhile, is being cultivated by American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), who needs an in to write a muckraking expose of the trade in "conflict diamonds." The roundelay of mutual exploitation eventually brings all of them to the heart of Sierra Leone's war-torn countryside, chasing a glittering dream. Despite strong performances by DiCaprio and Hounsou (Connelly, by contrast, is risibly unconvincing), Zwick and screenwriter Charles Leavitt are torn between the competing masters of popular entertainment and education, and they wind up serving neither well. That said, the mere prospect of a Hollywood feature dealing with conflict diamonds sent industry leader De Beers into a frenzy of damage control, so despite its deficiencies, the film raised awareness of the issue before it even opened.