I’ve always liked Leo DiCaprio, even when I was bored sick of him. I think it’s because I saw This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape long before Romeo + Juliet or Titanic. I have him fixed in my mind as a gifted and versatile actor, so it’s good to see him in an unstarry role where he just gets to play a part well.
Leo is Danny Archer, a Rhodesian mercenary (“Don’t we call it Zimbabwe now?”) caught smuggling diamonds across the Liberian border during the Sierra Leone civil war. Djimon Hounsou is Solomon Vandy, a Mende fisherman captured when rebels attack his village and he’s slave labour for the diamond mines that fund the conflict. Vandy finds and hides a large pink diamond, and Archer offers to help him find his family – who fled when the rebels attacked – in return for half the proceeds.
Aided by idealistic journalist Jennifer Connelly, the two men trek through enemy territory, leading the viewer through the startling landscape of Sierra Leone’s brutal conflict. Child soldiers being brainwashed, helpless villagers being massacred and mutilated, and the few altruistic efforts of aid workers (local and foreign) are viewed without pithy melodrama. Even the burgeoning romance between Connelly’s character and Leo’s Archer is sensitively handled – avoiding the crass “Hollywood” shoehorning other films would employ.
Djimon Hounsou is outstanding – an Oscar-nominated performance – revealing strength, courage, humility and dignity in his softly-spoken character. DiCaprio was also nominated, not least for the notoriously difficult accent, and manages to bring humanity to a fairly obnoxious character without making him too sympathetic.
Even though it’s a character piece, Blood Diamond is heavy on action, and remains gripping and engaging throughout. Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes list an average 6/10 rating, but if I had to be pinned to a number, for me it would be nearer an eight.