Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou
(R, 143 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama, Mystery and Suspense
“Sometimes I wonder if God will ever forgive us for what we've done to each other...Then I look around and I realize... God left this place a long time ago.” Danny Archer
This is the Hollywood we used to know and love. A sweeping landscape of unearthly beauty and savage bloodshed, a charming cad ready for redemption, and the committed beauty to guide him there. A father willing to risk everything to save his son. And one very large diamond that makes the difference to them all.
And this diamond is certainly a bloody one, far darker than its generic pink color. It and its smaller brethren buy the arms for both sides in this bloody civil war in 1999 Sierra Leone. Perhaps that part of the story line is what kept me away from this film when it was released in 2006.
Not another preachy Hollywood screed, splashing us in blood and full technicolor guilt on the big screen! But, surprisingly, that is not the case. Blood Diamond is surprisingly balanced and realistic. Part of that is the nuanced script and the great talent of Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Danny Archer, a South African mercenary who charms us with his bold bad boy charm, just as he did in 2002’s Catch Me if You Can.
We first meet Danny as he bluffs his way into a rebel stronghold to sell a planeload of rocket launchers. His guts and negotiating skills somehow overshadow the reality of what he’s doing. Incidentally, the American DiCaprio does his African accent, a kind of cockney English one, as well as the Creole version of it he uses to speak to the Rebel commander, quite well. He also has that rogue charm that mutes our judgment of him, just as it does that of the socially conscious journalist Maddy Bowen, who meets him at a bar.
He spars with her, giving as good as he gets. His wit and sense of humor disarm us both.
Danny Archer: American, huh?
Maddy Bowen: Guilty.
Danny Archer: Well, Americans usually are.
Maddy Bowen: ...Says the white South African?
Danny Archer: Ts ts ts ts. I'm from Rhodesia!
Maddy Bowen: We say Zimbabwe now, don't we?
Danny Archer: Do we?
Maddy Bowen: Last time I checked.
Part of the fun with that exchange is how he sets the somewhat self-righteous Maddy back on her heels right away. There’s a little John Wayne/ Maureen O’Hara going on here. And the dialogue has deeper meaning too.
First is the idiomatic quip, “Guilty,” as in “Guilty as charged" type banter.
“Well, American usually are” is ambiguous. Are Americans really guilty or is Danny suggesting that they always feel that way in their collective social guilt. Probably both.
Nor does Danny let her lecture him about smuggling so-called “blood diamonds.”
Danny Archer: Let me tell you something. You sell blood diamonds too.
Maddy Bowen: Really?
Danny Archer: Yeah.
Maddy Bowen: Tell me, how is that?
Danny Archer: Who do you think buys the stones that I bring out? Dreamy American girls who all want a storybook wedding and a big, shiny rock like the ones in the advertisements of your politically-correct magazines. So, please, don't come here and make judgments on me, all right?
Danny Archer: You come here with your laptop computers, your malaria medicine and you little bottles of hand sanitizer and think you can change the outcome, huh?
And it’s hard to blame it all on the diamonds and Danny, self-confessed arms dealer and smuggler, when you see the horrible violence fellow Africans inflict on each other.
To keep people from voting, the rebels chop off their hands. They kill or capture villages at a time, kidnapping young boys into their army. The snippets of their drug infused training are as repugnant as they are effective.
The third ingredient in this heady brew of characters is Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman who hopes for his son to be a doctor. His well-laid plays go awry when the village is sacked. Solomon is sent to work in a diamond camp, his son captured by the rebels.
He finds a huge pink diamond the size of a bird’s egg and hides it just before the camp is raided by government troops. After meeting in jail, Danny and Solomon team up. Eventually, a reluctant Maddy joins them.
The diamond means something different to each of them, and bargains and counter bargains are made. To Solomon it is a way to get his son back. For Danny, who we learn watched his parents die…
Maddy: You lost your parents didn't you?
Archer: That's a polite way of putting it, ja. Mom was raped and...Dad was decapitated and hung from a hook in the barn.
it is a ticket out of this corrupt chaos. For Maddy, a bargaining chip to get the goods on the head of the blood diamond smuggling operation, with Danny’s help.
The goodness shines through Solomon like a beacon. Danny, if he has any, tries to hide it. Maddy sees its sparks, though.
The superb acting of DiCaprio and Hounsou, both of whom were nominated for Oscars, is what sets this film apart. A less assured actor would not allow us to root for his redemption, as we do for DiCaprio, and Hounsou has that rare quality called presence. He commands without effort; strength, courage, and goodness emanate from his core.
Why trudge to the cinema when this gem is available on your home big screen. It’s free on Amazon Prime streaming. And even if you saw it in 2006, Blood Diamond is worth rewatching just to remind yourself of what Hollywood used to do so well.
Watch it today!
Danny meets Maddy, who will change his life, at an outdoor bar in Sierra Leone. It has the typical amiable bartender, all smiles and small talk, a soft breeze, and the usual assortment of lovely colorful drinks.
It could be one of those lovely places we see on television, advertising a tropical honeymoon destination. But this parcel of civilization is smack dab in the middle of a raging civil war that is slowly bleeding its way toward them.
Let Danny and Maddyenjoy this island of peace for a little while, at least. Well, a sort of peace. The attraction is there, but the verbal sparring is as well.
Drink up this Tropical Sangria made with white wine, lots of other potent swill, and some luscious fruit.
African Tropical Sangria
3 cups white wine, the sweeter kind
1 cup pineapple juice
½ cup passion fruit juice
1 cup dark rum
1 ½ cups chopped tropical fruit; ie, mango, pineapple, kiwi, tangerines etc
1 lime sliced
Mix all ingredients together in a jug and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.