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Monday, January 22, 2007

Blood Diamond review

By MIKE McILVAIN

A few years ago one could hardly find a good movie, but nowadays it is tough to find the time to see all the good ones.
Hollywood has advanced from the days when it seemed like Stephen Spielberg was the only one there who consistently knew how to make a good movie. Hollywood is making better movies and “Blood Diamond” is certainly one of them.
“Blood Diamond” might have rated 15 habaneros on a scale of 1 to 10 several years ago, but gets a good, fat, healthy 8 now, despite a few familiar movie ploys, which stem from the bad recent days of Hollywood when the makers couldn’t get the funding from the financiers without including several scenes that were clearly adapted from previous successful productions.
“Blood Diamond” will remind veteran moviegoers right away of 1983’s “Under Fire,” starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. Both movies are set in real life civil wars in tropical settings, focusing on international journalists and, or action-type people.
Rapidly rising star Leonardo DiCaprio, doing well these days in intense, edgy roles, is the former mercenary, with a credible white Zimbabwe accent, who has gone into smuggling diamonds from war-torn Sierra Leone through neighboring Liberia in the late 1990s. Sweet-faced Jennifer Connelly is the still idealistic international journalist Maddy Bowen who DiCaprio’s Danny Archer meets in a Freetown beachside bar, sparking a budding romance that never has but a few brief moments of peace to feel like it has a chance of going anywhere.
There isn’t much peace in a civil war with people making millions off diamonds sold to finance guns and ammunition and “Blood Diamond” -- blending thrilling action in several battle scenes with artfully sprinkled philosophical and moral points – makes three hours zip by quicker than a round from an AK47.
The action picks up shortly after Djimon Hounsou starts the movie in a seaside fishing village as fisherman and net mender Solomon Vandy. “Gladiator” fans will remember him as Maximus’ friend Juba and the last one to leave the area after the final fight scene in the coliseum.
Vandy is captured by rebels invading his village and taken to work in a river, digging for diamonds. He comes up with a big one, and mindful of his son Dia who wants to grow up to be a doctor, doesn’t hesitate to find a way to keep it for himself. The rebels’ brutality doesn’t hurt his angst with them, either.
Dia is captured by the rebels and coerced into becoming a boy soldier, adding a sub-
story to the drama, leading to one of several endnotes as topical as tonight’s television newscast.
“Blood Diamond” is very entertaining, but it’s more than entertainment – blood diamonds exist and this movie carries a documentary tilt to it, reminding us that people die to have pretty brides wear pretty wedding rings.
Archer gets caught smuggling at the border and he and Vandy are pushed together after the rebel diamond digging camp is attacked by government forces just in the nick of time. Vandy is taken to a Freetown prison with everyone else where the wounded rebel camp commander fingers him for hiding the big “pink” diamond. Vandy and Archer are freed just in time to dodge bullets, rockets and grenades in one of several very well-shot battle scenes on a level with the best ever seen in a movie as rebels attack the capital city.
Cinematography in the rest of “Blood Diamond” is pretty good, too.
Cameras make the most of scenes filmed in South Africa and Mozambique, including enough wild life, cloud forests and mountains to entice almost any itchy-footed traveler. Properly photographed city slums, devoid of the usual in-your-face beggars found in much of the third world, have a deceiving comfortable look to them.
“This is Africa, or T-I-A,” is used carefully a few times by Archer and his former mercenary commander, Arnold Vosloo as Colonel Coetzee, when discussing the violence and Africa’s troubles. “This is Africa” might sound a lot like “It’s the Code of the West” heard frequently in James Coburn and Carroll O’Connor’s 1967 western comedy “Waterhole #3.” There is a certain smile, as with that same quote in “Waterhole,” that goes with “T-I-A” each time and punctuates the script when Archer and Coetzee use it in one of the final scenes as the colonel is gunned down.
Only a quick eye would catch the obvious minor error that IMDb.com notes online in the 1999 London street scene near the end when a 2005 Volkswagen slips past filmmakers.
“Blood Diamond” brings plenty of entertainment to the screen. Be prepared to be pinned down in your seat for one of the more engaging, quicker long rides eyes and mind can travel via the big screen.

Note: A printed version of this review is available in Laredo, Texas in the January 2007 edition of LareDOS. You can see in pdf at www.laredosnews.com.

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