Some Indiana Jones, some Heart of Darkness
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe." Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
In West Africa's Sierra Leone, 1999, anarchy ruled, best symbolized by civil war and diamond lust. Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond touches all the incendiary bases: towns pillaged for young boys to be recruited for rebel armies, big diamond firms manipulating the market to keep the price of diamonds high, foreign concerns such as the US walking narrowly between outrage at civil rights violations and interest in the country's vast resources such as oil, rubber, and, of course, minerals.
As in this year's other cautionary slice of African history, The Last King of Scotland (about Idi Amin), Blood Diamond's Africa is ripe for maniacal dictators and white exploiters, be they international or South African. Zwick captures the ironic beauty through visually stunning landscapes juxtaposed with close up shots of poverty and mayhem, not all related to diamonds, but all certainly connected to natural riches incapable of being protected by an impoverished, illiterate citizenry.
Leonardo DiCaprio's David Archer, from Zimbabwe (Rhodesia as he still calls it), deals in diamonds, a savvy young entrepreneur dedicated to gaining a 100 carat "pink" diamond discovered by native laborer Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou). Vandy needs to barter the discovery for the return of his enslaved family and a chunk of money. Archer's adventure dominates the film to the detriment of closer looks at devastating issues such as child soldiers, of which there are an estimated 200,000. Vandy's son is one of those, so Archer becomes involved by virtue of the diamond and his own emerging altruistic inclinations.
Archer's budding love for Jennifer Connelly's journalist Maddy Bowen reminds me of Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca?love requiring sacrifices during war, issues bigger than the two of them, blah, blah. So Blood Diamond turns on love after all, both for a land and a people. If Zwick had stayed longer with the big issues such as politics and corporate corruption, his film would have achieved an Out-of-Africa mystique. He does, however, elicit a memorable performance from DiCaprio and wakes us to the politics of diamonds. After all, romantic Americans demand 2/3 of the African diamonds, rarely asking if they are buying "conflict-free" gems.
The sometimes Indiana Jones-like Blood Diamond gives little hope there is such a commodity.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com