But, for all its good intentions, the film often ends up glamorising the turmoil. The many breathless set pieces are so thrilling, and so well executed that you can’t help but be carried away by the excitement of it all. There’s nothing essentially wrong with this – Blood Diamond is an action adventure after all. Still, there is something slightly distasteful about getting a thrill out of watching a rebel camp full of child soldiers getting blown to smithereens by a helicopter gunship.
It’s not that Zwick has intentionally set out to exploit anyone – quite the opposite in fact. You can sense that he and his talented cast and crew all believe deeply in the story they are trying to tell. And no one shows more commitment than Leonardo DiCaprio. With his well executed South African accent (it’s good enough that you stop noticing it after a while), DiCaprio fully inhabits this complex and unlikebale character. Once a personality driven performer, he has grown into a fully-fledged actor in the mould of Dustin Hoffman or Harvey Keitel.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Djimon Hounsou is an accomplished and deeply passionate actor, but needs a restraining influence. Here Zwick gives him free reign, and his performance sometimes slips into melodramatic wailing and gnashing. The luminously beautiful Jennifer Connelly is solid enough, but lacks the inspiration that saw her win an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind.
Far more satisfying for local audiences are the many small but meaty parts given to South African actors. The marvellous Antony Coleman (of Snitch and Gums and Noses fame) does particularly good work, as does newcomer Kagiso Kuypers as Hounsou’s son. And the local influence is even more pronounced behind the scenes, with dozens of South Africans working at everything from producing to gripping.
Whether you enjoy Blood Diamond depends very much on your point of view. Action fans, willing to see this as a politically flavoured skop-skiet-en-donner, will certainly get their money’s worth. But someone looking for a deeply insightful picture of Africa had best look elsewhere. Talented as he may be, Edward Zwick is a perennial button pusher - he finds the knob of your emotional volume and turns it up to 11. And, for anyone who really cares about this continent, that experience is hardly a pleasant one.
- Alistair Fairweather
It's often hard to tell whether Blood Diamond is about exploitation, or is exploitation itself. But, with Edward Zwick in spectacular action mode, will anyone care?
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