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"Blood Diamond"

A brutal look at the human cost of the precious jewels


No girl's best friend


If Borat, by all reports, leads the league in outrage, for somewhat different reasons the new movie Blood Diamond may qualify as first runner-up. Essentially an action-adventure thriller with a significant documentary component, the film shows the cruel and dangerous business of mining, smuggling, and selling African diamonds and, as a result, has provoked strong public reactions from the industry at every level. Although an international agreement now prevents some of the worst abuses, apparently many of the horrors that the picture exposes continue in the present day.

Blood Diamond tells a number of stories, all related in one way or another to the search for a large, pure diamond discovered by an African fisherman, Solomon Vandy (DjimonHounson), enslaved by Sierra Leone's rebel militia. Knowing that if he can somehow keep the rock, he may find his family, who fled the rebel attack, Solomon hides it and manages to escape the vicious warlord who knows of his discovery. A part-time mercenary and diamond smuggler --- he likes to call himself a soldier of fortune --- a Rhodesian named Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) learns about the jewel, and joins Solomon, swapping his experience and connections for a share of the profits, and promising his new partner that he'll help him rescue his son, now a child soldier in the warlord's army.

The long, complicated, and exceedingly dangerous journey to locate and recover both the diamond and Solomon's son occupies much of the movie's major action. With the help of a daring journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), Solomon and Danny must lie, bribe, and shoot their way out of an extraordinary series of chancy encounters with a variety of adversaries --- rebels, government troops, freelance thugs, and a well equipped army of mercenaries led by Danny's former commander.

Although the movie resembles one of those innumerable cinematic adventures in search of some rare and precious object, it also provides a quasi-documentary examination of the diamond trade, showing just what the title means. The profits from the jewels finance the armed militias that wage shockingly savage conflicts in several of the most volatile African nations, particularly, in Blood Diamond, the civil war in Sierra Leone. The movie shows not only the step-by-step operations of the diamond industry, but also the methods of the militia that in the time of the action sought to control it --- massacre, torture, and the mutilation of children.

Despite the numerous narrative interruptions of the various pursuits, escapes, and shootouts, the script displays an admirable attempt to illuminate an important social, economic, and political problem that in the recent past thrust some African nations into chaos. Danny educates Maddy about the diamond trade, but cynically perseveres in his quest for the great jewel, which he regards as his ticket out of Africa, and whatever the dangers, he allows nothing to deter him from the search.

One of the pleasant surprises of Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio, in the sort of part that in the old days was played, though differently, by such actors as Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable, performs more than adequately as the soldier of fortune. Helped by a scraggly beard and unglamourous clothing, he appears finally to have outgrown his postpubescent androgyny and acquired some of the masculinity that American film demands of its leading men. He undergoes a relatively acceptable character development from selfishness to commitment to redemption in the great movie tradition and imparts a measure of authenticity to the whole procedure.

The plot moves through several sequences of shocking violence, with an almost rhythmic dependence on yet another massive militia attack on innocent citizens whenever the action threatens to slow down or the major characters find themselves in a hopeless situation. The director takes pains to show not only the unspeakable cruelty of the various armed forces, but also the unimaginable squalor of African poverty, especially in the urban slums, part of it the heritage of a long history of colonialism. Its compelling images of burning villages, armless children, files of refugees, wounded victims, and scores of corpses resemble any television news report of recent years, sadly demonstrating how cheap life has become in places most of us neither know about nor care about, in landscapes steeped in blood and scarred by suffering.

Blood Diamond (R), directed by Edward Zwick, is now playing at Culver Ridge 16, Pittsford Cinemas, Henrietta 18, Webster 12, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge 12, and Eastview 13.