Diamond Dogs of War

Blood Diamond. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djimon Hounsou star in a film written by Charles Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell and directed by Edward Zwick.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

It’s hard to believe the man who made the campy Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai could pull off this minor triumph. And yet, director Edward Zwick has achieved the almost impossible: a feature film about contemporary Africa, replete with liberal preaching, that remains compelling from first gunshot to final self-congratulations. Leonardo DiCaprio also pulls off the unlikely as Danny Archer, a barely sentimentalized soldier of fortune. He’s a wily survivor who turns unrepentant killer when the chips are down. In a long soliloquy to Jennifer Connelly (playing a woman reporter Howard Hawks might have liked), he asks why Americans are so hung up on their feelings. Relating his parents’ brutal murders, he then pauses and says (charmingly), “I know, boo-hoo, huh?” By the way, DiCaprio’s accent isn’t nearly as bad as it seemed from the previews.

Besides the thick-as-impasto message, though, a lot of the film’s elements succeed wildly. The long battle scenes are stunningly chaotic and coherent at the same time, and Zwick knows how to build menace without taxing the viewer. But unlike similar films that have come before — The Killing Fields or The Year of Living Dangerously, to name two — Blood Diamond is different, more like a 1940s Warner Bros. film about involvement in righteous causes, only with more hacked limbs and kids shooting heroin.

It’s hard to say why it works, but Zwick is slicker than a lot of action directors emerging lately. I’d like to think the film succeeds because of its subtext: an engaging emotional discussion about human nature. “We’re neutral,” says one character, “it’s what we do that makes us good or bad.” A few moments later, someone party to this discussion is shot by a little boy trained to kill by rebels who enslave and kill their own people. I know. Boo-hoo, huh?

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