Set in 1999, during the Sierra Leone Civil War, a fisherman named Solomon (Djimon Hounsou) is captured by the Revolutionary United Front after they massacre his village. Forced to work panning for diamonds, which the rebels intend to sell overseas to buy weapons, he discovers the largest diamond the revolutionary leader (David Harewood) has ever seen. During a government raid on the camp, he is able to hide it and escape; but his son has also been captured by the rebels, and is brainwashed into serving as a child soldier. Solomon teams up with Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mercenary who also wants the diamond, and Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), a journalist covering the conflict, to try and get his family back.
There is potential for greatness here. It’s the story of a man suffering through the carnage of civil war, trying to get back to his family against seemingly impossible odds. The political commentary is sharp and bitter, leaving no illusions about the complicity of first world powers in the horrifying war which grips Sierra Leone. Djimon Hounsou is superb as Solomon, truly making you feel for the character’s anguish at being separated from his family, and unable to comprehend how his own countrymen can do these things to each other. The action sequences are expertly staged, and the fact that many of the fighters are children, and many of the casualties civilians, really hammers home how senseless and brutal the war is.
Which is why it baffles me that Solomon is a supporting character, with DiCaprio’s Danny Archer as the lead. A shocking amount of the first half of the film is spent on a blossoming romance between him and Maddy; it’s incredibly out of place and does nothing to further the story. The script is a bit messy throughout, to be frank: the film is longer than it needs to be because it keeps taking detours which don’t really contribute anything, and Archer’s motivation is all over the place, with him unable to make up his mind whether he’s an amoral soldier of fortune or a good man just trying to get out of Africa. To DiCaprio’s credit, his performance is excellent, and since we spend most of the film in his and Hounsou’s company, there’s a lot to like about it. It just saddens me that the laws of Hollywood dictate that Solomon is only able to rescue his son with the aid of the mighty whitey, and that the horrors of civil war in Africa are used as a means for the white man to redeem himself.
Blood Diamond is a good film. The action scenes are great, the scenery is beautiful, and the performances are outstanding. But it could have been so much better. What could have been a great film about an African hero fighting his way through an African conflict is instead loaded with a white protagonist who is presumably only there because that’s who the studio thought the audience would relate to. It’s hardly the only recent film guilty of this, but I’d hoped that the trope of the white man swooping in to rescue the natives had been abandoned by this point. Apparently not.