Dicaprio shines as the Diamond in the rough

by Beacon Staff • December 6, 2006

DeBeers and the International Gemological Institute are worried about the effects of the film this holiday season. A new Web site opened by an industry group, diamondfacts.org, seeks to educate the masses about the current state of conflict diamonds, which are mined in war-torn nations and sold to finance violence.,The release of Blood Diamond has the diamond industry scared.

DeBeers and the International Gemological Institute are worried about the effects of the film this holiday season. A new Web site opened by an industry group, diamondfacts.org, seeks to educate the masses about the current state of conflict diamonds, which are mined in war-torn nations and sold to finance violence.

But concentrating on the movie's message about the diamond industry is irrelevant.

While narcissistic smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), loyal fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) and good-intentioned reporter Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) are pulled together by a diamond, focusing on the political message would not only deteriorate the film's historical significance, but also the terrific performances by the three lead characters.

Director Edward Zwick acknowledges that his primary concern was to make an entertaining and moving film that tells the truth about events that occurred in 1999. Any awareness raised is a nice side effect, but unintentional.

"It is my job as a filmmaker to tell the truth about events," Zwick said in a phone interview with Beacon. "It's not my job to promote [the diamond industry's] image through our filmmaking."

The film begins by diving right into action, and soon we see a clear pattern that continues throughout: moments of calm and quiet turn to sudden bursts of vicious violence in the civil war of Sierra Leone.

In the first 15 minutes, Vandy is ripped from his family and forced to sift for diamonds, Bowen tries to sexually charm information out of Archer, who gets caught smuggling diamonds over the border. Meanwhile, the world's leaders sit back and discuss the impact on conflict diamonds at a G8 conference.

When self-serving Archer learns that Vandy has found (and hidden) a rare pink diamond, Archer convinces Bowen he is not only trying to help Vandy find his family, but he can get her hard facts for her story. A three-way parasitic relationship is born, and thus begins the long journey through Africa's unpredictable terrain.

Archer's selfish and detestable character is a great complement to Vandy's devotion to his family and his sweet nature. At one point, Vandy asks Archer if he is married or has kids. Archer says he doesn't, and Vandy asks if that is what Archer plans on doing once he gets the diamond. Archer says probably not, and Vandy doesn't get it. As different as their motives and intentions are, each character's personality is equally as explosive. Both endure fits of rage, including an intense fist fight between the two.

Hounsou has the most electrifying performance, managing to make you scared, cry, sympathize and laugh through very few lines and many facial expressions. He puts his heart into a role that is made for him.

Bowen and Archer's relationship arises more from desperation than romance. The tension between the two matches the movie's overall anxiety. At moments, it seems a bit strained, but the main idea is clear: the "love" story is not the predominant interest here.

One of the film's more poignant moments is when Vandy's beloved and only son Dia is taken by soldiers and brainwashed into becoming a loyal rebel. Watching a nine-year-old shoot mothers and children is horrifying, and Zwick does a great job making the sweet and intelligent. It's these types of scenes that stick with you: a truck pulling along a dead body, rebels partying amongst the dead and pouring liquor over them, an entire country compacted into one refugee camp, all giving very vivid images of a life Americans aren't familiar with.

Ten years ago when these events were actually happening, DiCaprio was charming us with his boyish looks and charismatic roles. In probably the most unlikable character he has portrayed in his career, it is clear to see how far he has come along.

"Playing a character that is so opportunistic and narcissistic, I didn't agree with so many of the character's choices, and that's a hard role to play, especially when you are in Africa and can actually see the effects," he said in a phone interview with The Beacon.

The complexity, selfishness, and anger are sides we haven't seen in him-at least not all at once. Focusing only on his performance in this film is impossible. He is clearly part of a tandem with Hounsou, and much more enjoyable to watch when he is in a scene with either him or Connelly.

As for the unintentional political message-well, you may not rush out to buy a diamond any time soon.