A Resounding Surprise And Success
I have to admit, I wasn't expecting a great deal from this film. Leonardo DiCaprio, and a Hollywood 'message' movie rolled into one. I am very happy to say that I was truly surprised and impressed, and my worries were proven unfounded.
Djimon Hounsou is excellent as Solomon, while Jennifer Connelly is good in a somewhat limited and slightly stereotyped role. However, the real stand out performance is DiCaprio. I will freely admit I have never been a fan, usually finding him weak and unimpressive in his younger roles, and in more recent years he has proved reasonably good but not awe inspiring. In Blood Diamond he got me. For the first time, I wasn't watching DiCaprio act, but the character he played. Rightly, both DiCaprio and Hounsou were Oscar nominated for their performances.
Whether Blood Diamond is an accurate or exaggerated portrayal of events I don't know, and only those who experienced what happened in that time and place could say. As a story though, it fires on all cylinders, providing a thought provoking and hard-hitting tale. There are various themes, and it portrays its characters fairly even-handedly. Danny's character is a grey and nuanced individual, who doesn't fit all the typical stereotypes. He can be selfish, insulting and prejudiced whilst also showing that beneath it all he can be self-sacrificing and thoughtful. The other characters and events make him re-evaluate his priorities and goals, but not in a typical 'life changing' way. It's more as though he already was that person, he just needed reminding. It makes a change from the type of character who 'sees the light and suddenly becomes good'.
Jennifer Connelly does well in what is really a thankless role. In essence she is a sounding board for revealing Danny's character, and getting over the film's political and social conscience and/or message. Her character is also somewhat of a stereotype, with the 'shocking-news-exposing incorruptible reporter', but it's to her credit that we do not lose sympathy with Maddy.
The film is not perfect. For example, there is one scene where Solomon acts stupidly and out of character, shouting at a passing truck in the darkness, but this can be forgiven as it does not affect the story, and is primarily a device used to trigger a dark character moment between Solomon and Danny. The conclusion of DiCaprio's character is possibly the most predictable and clichéd event, but from a story perspective, it is the most effective and meaningful. Sometimes such story devices have to be used, as they work well for a reason.
Some have criticised the film's ending for being too 'Hollywood' and proceeding beyond what was necessary. In all honesty, I felt that without that ending, without that conclusion for the characters, the impact of the overall story would have been lessened. It is like the ending of a movie such as The Shawshank Redemption, where critics managed to complain about its ultimately uplifting 'Hollywood' ending, stating that it was out of place and at odds with what went before. Yet that is the whole point. It is the contrast that lifts up the story's conclusion, and gives everything leading to it, a point and reason.
With regards to how it was filmed, it has to be said there is some wonderful cinematography to be found. I genuinely felt drawn into the film and its story, and was never jolted out of it by any false and forced 'documentary' style camera work, which has become an over-used technique in recent years. The pace and editing show their quality, when you suddenly realise you have watched a film that is over two hours, without once feeling it.
All in all, it is a very human and personal tale, set against tragic events. By concentrating on the characters, it tells its story and message to best effect, without too much preaching and posturing. If you took away the message, it would still be an intense and riveting tale about the individuals involved, and that is why it works so well, and makes for an excellent film.