14 February 2007
  blood diamond

in my opinion, blood diamond has been the most surprisingly overlooked films by critics this awards season. leo dicaprio and djimon hounsou got acting noms from the oscars, but the film itself never generated much best picture buzz. still, i think without a doubt that this was among the year's best films. it has a very well written and nuanced screenplay, amazing direction from edward zwick (the same director who made legends of the fall) and three great performances from leo, djimon, and jennifer connelly. all in all it was a surprising, provocative film about a subject few of us probably know anything about.

if you saw the trailer, like me you probably have only a vague idea about what the film is about. blood diamond is just one of those complicated, multi-themed movies that is really difficult to represent in a two-minute preview. in a lot of ways this movie echoes last year's the constant gardener. both films deal with the simultaneous oppressions of african peoples, both from u.s.-europeans and from one other. however, whereas gardener manifested itself in a more understated, mysterious tone, zwick chose in blood diamond to instead focus on more dramatic scenes and images. the result: a much more captivating movie.

ostensibly this is a movie about the african diamond trade. it is set (mostly) in sierra leone in the 90s where there is a violent civil war taking place. guerrillas have taken over diamond mines and now employ prisoners of war as slaves. leo plays a south african diamond smuggler in sierra leone picking up diamonds from these warriors in order to sell them to a british jeweler. he happens to overhear that an escaped slave (djimon hounsou), now in prison, found a large diamond, he rescues him from jail in order that he direct him to this hidden gem.

however, this story is only the skeleton of the film. from the beginning of the movie where leo and djimon hounsou meet and then become involved with connelly, a u.s.-american reporter, it seems that the film's true villain is leo, the smuggler, and connelly is poised to become the foreign heroine, come to africa to save the poor slave and broadcast the plight of the people of sierra leone to the world. this is not what materializes in the course of blood diamond.

i love complicated movies, movies where heroes become antiheroes and visa versa. i like movies that make you think, that work with cliches and bend them and make you challenge what you are seeing and what you believe. this is why blood diamond was just an awesome movie.

as a cultural studies phd student, i have to deal daily with conflicts about how to study people in latin america and elsewhere outside of the u.s., canada and europe, without "othering" them as, for example, "the third world." things that are easy value judgements for a lot of people are completely nebulous to me in a lot of ways. and when it comes to rescuing poor africans, i have a hard time articulating my feelings. blood diamond really surprised me, because it echoes this same sense of the impossibility of communication. it is pure cultural studies.

when i went to see this movie i thought it was going to be a film about evil warlords and diamond smugglers saved by outsiders with a nation's best interests at heart. but early on, it becomes cloudy as to which person, the reporter or the smuggler really is in support of the people of sierra leone and who is simply pursuing selfish motives. the easy answer is that both of them come out as simultaneously selfish and philanthropic. but even this paradox is too easy for summarizing this movie.

blood diamond doesn't provide easy answers. it doesn't tie up all the loose ends in the conclusion. i don't think anyone has ever really articulated the problematic role of journalists in africa as blood diamond does. on the one hand, jennifer connelly genuinely wants to help the people of sierra leone. but on the other hand, she doesn't really know them. she isn't african. so it is impossible for her to know what is best for these people. she eventually finds out that what the u.s. wants for africa is not necessarily fitting to the reality of the people who live there.

amazingly i think that a lot of movies that have come out this year suprised me with their complicated nuances. thank gawd there wasn't a repeat of last year's preachy father-knows-best leftist cliche fare (i.e. syriana, munich, good night and good luck, etc. the only movie i can think of this year that was shockingly one dimensional like this was dreamgirls.) still blood diamond was probably the best film this year in terms of defying cliches. it was a great political film, but, more than that, it was a terrific portrait of the relationship between the world's developed and underdeveloped nations. one of my favorites of 2006.
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