Thursday, 18 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 63 - Blood Diamond

#38 - Blood Diamond

My science teacher once told us something he said to another of his classes, where he told the boys that they would all in their lifetime give a girl one thing. He got some very naughty suggestions as to what the one thing might be before he replied that it would be a diamond. I guess that is true because all girls do love diamonds, as Tom Haverford says “even the super left wing chicks who saw Blood Diamond and cried”. But of course be warned my friends as this is not a superficial Sex and the City fashion parade where you see nothing but beautiful jewellery. This is more about some of the truly disturbing and underhanded practises done by the diamond mining industry as well as the big Mexican standoffs on the African continent. Let’s get to work then.

We have two main characters; Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a fisherman in Sierra Leone until one day when his village is attacked and he gets separated from his family. They are taken away to a refugee camp and his son is kidnapped to become a child soldier. Solomon is forced to work in the diamond slave camps, digging for diamonds in the river. One day he finds a rather large diamond, known as a pink but the slave camp is attacked and so he hides it carefully before he is taken away. Our other protagonist is Danny Archer (Leonardo Di Caprio), a diamond smuggler from Zimbabwe who is arrested trying to smuggle diamonds across the border and taken to prison, where he meets Solomon. Danny overhears a guard from the camp yelling at Solomon about the diamond, though Solomon denies finding it. Danny pulls some strings to get Solomon out of prison and tries to convince him to tell him where the diamond is so he can escape from Africa. Solomon reluctantly agrees to help him on the condition that Danny finds his family for him. Danny tracks down an American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) and makes a deal – she finds Solomon’s family and he gives her the details of his smuggling contacts so she can write an article exposing the sale of counterfeit diamonds.

Does that plot sound a bit complicated? To me it did and it took me a bit of a while to actually get a hold of the whole thing, but it eventually does make sense after a while. You should be warned before watching this film as it is indeed ruthless and doesn’t sugar coat any of the facts. You see plenty of innocent people getting shot down in several raid scenes as well as a scene of a man’s hands getting cut off, not to mention someone getting shot for trying to hide a diamond he found. If you have a bit of an aversion to children cursing like sailors then be warned also since the child soldiers don’t like to censor themselves. They also listen to some very stereotypical rap music to show how badass they think they are. Most of the scenes that show Dia with the soldiers are some of the more disturbing ones to watch, particularly when he’s blindfolded and forced to fire a gun at a prisoner.

Our three leading actors are all outstanding. Djimon Hounsou is a fine veteran actor and you should check him out in films like In America and Amistad, though of course this remains his best role. His character is probably one of the most tragic and sympathetic in film history and that’s made all the more poignant by the fact that he’s most likely based on several real people. Well, I hope it’s several people because I don’t think the universe would make that many tragedies happen to one person in real life. It seems that Mr Di Caprio can’t catch a break in a few of his films as his accent is always being questioned. My brother labelled it the worst English accent he’d ever heard despite the film making it obvious that Danny is from Zimbabwe (though he insists on calling it Rhodesia) and I think the accent is just fine. It slips up in a couple of places but it sounds convincing enough. A lot of the time he does seem to make some characters seem pretty similar to each other (like Shutter Island and Inception) but Danny stands out and is one of his more unique roles. Jennifer Connelly is pretty good in this as well, playing a pretty rare thing called a journalist who isn’t blood sucking or privacy-invading. Maddy has good intentions and Jennifer does give her this nice witty edge like when they get cornered by a group of soldiers and she casually asks if they would like to get their picture taken. We also have a smaller role from Arnold “Imhotep” Vosloo who is on form as he always is. Michael Sheen makes an appearance at the very end, looking almost identical to his appearance in The Damned United though with a different accent.

I’d like to talk about the visuals, as I nearly always do. You do see a lot of beautiful and stunning shots of the African scenery particularly in the parts where Danny and Solomon are hiking through the woods and the jungle. There’s also a really beautiful shot where the two of them are walking into the sunset (no, it’s not *that* type of movie). But the thing with the visuals in this film is that they have a different type of effect on you. It shows Africa is a pretty place to look at and the scenery is beautiful, but it does go hand in hand with the image that some people have of Africa as a lovely scenic place when there’s a lot more under the surface. Here in this film it’s a beautiful place that you want to escape from, where the beauty hides a lot of the truly bad things about it. There’s probably no real other films that use this touch apart from Wolf Creek and possibly The Field as well.

I feel a bit weird reviewing the action scenes in this film since they’re not meant to be exciting but rather disturbing and that is what they are. They are very well done and they manage to not be exciting and give the typical “wasn’t that cool?” attitude most of these supposed-anti war films slip into by accident. The scenes are more urgent and nerve-wrecking than entertaining and that’s what makes them powerful such as Solomon’s village being attacked and the raid on the camp at the end. The drama scenes are much easier to talk about so I’ll drop the obvious one – the night time scene with Danny and Maddy where Danny delivers one of the best lines in the film “Sometimes I wonder if God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other. Then I remember that God left this place a long time ago”. Then for people who have seen the movie and know what I’m talking about, the conversation between Danny and Maddy over the phone is pretty powerful and also the part where Solomon is trying to get his son to remember him. I was ecstatic to hear that both Hounsou and Di Caprio got Oscar nominations for this as they certainly deserved them.

Well that was another rather controversial film out of the way but what is life without a little extra spice? I found this to be a lot more enjoyable than Leo’s other film The Departed that came out that year as well as one of his more unique roles as I mentioned above. I’m not a political person so I won’t pretend I know anything about that and say some of those lines so I’ll just leave you with a polite nod and handshake this time around. And no, just in case you were wondering, I haven’t given that diamond yet. When I get the money and find a girl worth giving it to then I might just tell her that story my teacher was on about. Until next time people and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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