Monday, January 08, 2007

Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, 2006)

Edward Zwick opens his latest film with a lovely and obviously artificial taste of rural life in 1999 Sierra Leone. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) reminds his favorite son to sleep and go to class the following day; he relishes in the thought that his son would graduate to become a successful doctor. Opening credits over the beautiful vistas of Africa (Eduardo Serra's lush cinematography captures Africa's natural beauty); Blood Diamond. Zwick quickly forwards his advocacy: Vandy's village gets raided and burned by bloodthirsty rebels; women and children are shot without remorse while the hands of the men are chopped off. Vandy is captured and is brought to the diamond mines where he discovers a pink diamond the size of a bird's egg; he hides the diamond in the jungle before he is spirited away from the mines and imprisoned in the capital city of Sierra Leone.

Vandy meets diamond smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo di Caprio) in prison; Archer meets good-natured American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) in one of the local bars. A deal is made: Vandy helps Danny unearth the pink diamond; Maddy helps Danny with her press connections; Danny helps Maddy come up with a press-worthy story. The trio talk about Africa, diamonds, morality, African racial relations, before they become bullet and missile targets of stereotypically portrayed rebels. Repeat the tedious talk-run-explosion pattern and that's baisacally the film, a tiresome adventure film (an incompetently directed one at that), garbed in allegedly important "Oscar bait" issues.

It's not surprising coming from Zwick. Zwick is one director who has self-conscious ambitions of reinstating the obsolete theory of "white man's burden." His films are staged in exoticized locales wherein the natives are suffering from civil war. A hero (mostly white, good looking, with a sorry past that is revealed in one of Zwick's staged conversations, and moral ambiguity) is imported from the West, to help resolve the natives' conflicts while curing his personal inadequacies. That's basically Glory (1989), The Last Samurai (2003) and Blood Diamond in a nutshell, and that's basically Zwick's artistic contribution to humanity, paltry as it seems.

Zwick's films are harmless. It's just that Zwick wallows in self-importance that translates to the characters he creates. When Danny Archer consciously plans on pilfering the pink diamond from Vandy then discovers that he has a mortal wound, the moral dilemma is shrunk to inconsequential proportions. Maddy's supposed dutiful goals for humanity is tainted with gratuitously expedited romantic relations with the morally ambiguous diamond smuggler. Vandy is of course, the native (the same way Ken Watanabe's noble samurai general in The Last Samurai and Denzel Washington's African-American soldier in Glory are token good specimens of an exploited race) that is depicted with unanimous virtues: the loving father, dutiful family man with simple and selfless ambitions. Sadly, not enough Solomon Vandy's can overturn the fact that the rest of the Sierra Leone citizenry are portrayed by Zwick as either brainless bullet receptacles, devilish rebels, pacifist stereotypes, or helpless victims. This is Africa, at least in the eyes of Zwick.

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