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December 15, 2006

Blood Diamond

In one of the climactic moments of Blood Diamond (IMDB), Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist righteously insists that if American consumers knew how our diamonds were obtained, we'd stop buying them. As Bowen lectures the ruthless mercenary Danny Archer (Leo DiCaprio, complete with Zimbabwean accent), I couldn't help but think about the ubiquitous jewely advertisements that have been airing on TV throughout the holiday season. Yes, those commercials do a fantastic job of masking the means of production (or perhaps, more precisely, procurement) that placed that diamond in the glass case at the local mall, and perhaps Blood Diamond does something to make that process more visible, but like Nathan Lee of The Village Voice, I was uninspired by the film's "facile politics and bad storytelling," Perhaps this disappointment is due to the fact that I watched this movie in a mall within walking distance of several jewelers whose commodities exist comfortably alongside the very film I was consuming. Perhpas it's mere holiday grumpiness. Or maybe I was just bored by half a dozen action sequences in search of a story.

To be fair, Blood Diamond makes some effort to dramatize the degree to which Western jewelers exploit, and sometimes even exacerbate, civil unrest in Africa in order to obtain diamonds (and, the film even implies, to ensure that diamond prices remain sufficiently high to ensure greater profit). And through the eyes of Maddy, we see American consumers caught up in the Monica-gate drama while the civil war raging in Sierra Leone received little attention. The film also dramatically depicts the rebel army's horrific practice of conscripting child soldiers. But the story itself is told with what seemed like a paint-by-numbers script featuring what Lee describes as the "holy trinity of African-adventure film" characters, the serious journlaist, the ruthless mercenary, and the righteous native, Solomon (played by Djimon Hounsou, who deserves better work).

The plot, such as it is, involves Solomon becoming forced into hard labor panning for diamonds, after being separated from his wife and children, including his son who dreams of becoming a doctor. When Solomon discovers a giant pink diamond, he manages to bury it but not before rumors of the diamond spread throughout the diamond trade, where they inevitably reach the ears of Danny. Maddy just happens to be in Sierra Leone to write a story about the "conflict diamond" trade when she meets Danny who clearly sees the "blood diamond" as a final big score before he "retires."

I think that what bothered me the most about the film was its depiction of the civil war in Sierra Leone. If Blood Diamond intended to be critical of the exploitation of Africans, it certainly seems to relish the bloody action sequences in which entire villages of anonymous Africans are slaughtered in a hail of bullets. There's little, if any, exploration of the politics that produced the civil war, which gives the violence a strange inevitability that I don't think the film intends. I'm probably being more critical than I ought to be of what appears to be a well-intentioned film, but because there's very little exploration of how the diamond industry operates outside of Africa (other than Maddy's long-shot photographs of Solomon selling the eponymous bood diamond to a European dealer), the critique ultimately felt a little thin.

Posted by chuck at December 15, 2006 9:30 AM

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I've been dying to see this, mostly because I'm wondering if this sort of practice still goes on and whether the movie addresses whether its ongoing, or finished. It does seem interesting to me that the diamond industry tried to insist on calling them 'conflict diamonds' rather than 'blood diamonds' (both seem rather negative to me), but the subject matter---on how responsible a corp is for encourging political unrest for a good market---is quite fascinating.

Posted by: Shelley at December 16, 2006 10:10 AM

The film is set during the Sierra Leone civil war (late 1990s), but if I remember correctly, there is a title at the end of the film that suggests the practice of purchasing conflict diamonds still exists. Still, setting the film in the (recent) past and closing it with a trial seem to imply some sense of narrative closure.

I did find it amusing that Michael Sheen, who recently played Tony Blair in The Queen, plays one of the guilty diamond executives.

Posted by: Chuck at December 16, 2006 11:27 AM

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