Readers with rocks on your fingers, take note. Bling is bad. Bling kills. Bling turns farm kids into smacked-out soldiers, slaughtering their brothers and sisters. Such is the message of Blood Diamond, anyway – Edward Zwick’s didactic follow-up to The Last Samurai. Like ivory and gold beforehand, the West has discovered something it likes in Africa, leading the locals into a tragic squabble for a cut. In this Sierra Leonean hellhole, tension beats down with oppressive heat and no one knows friends from killers.
Amid the carnage (and as ambivalent as the natives) is DiCaprio. Carrying off a Zimbabwean accent with “Mebbe ah wazn’t bristfed as a chide” aplomb, his Danny is a reprehensible, immoral materialist; happy to exploit Solomon sod the consequences. However, he’s a reprehensible, immoral materialist with a distressing backstory, making his actions almost understandable. Also, next to Jennifer Connelly’s Maddy, he’s positively charming – her slightly annoying, massively stereotypical journalist bristling with all the wit and insight of a gap year do-gooder.
Her catchphrases (“This is what one million refugees look like. And you might catch it somewhere between the sports and weather” ) though are typical of a film that adds scripted sheen to a horrific confllict. Here, every sentence is a sermon, to the extent that even random OAP villagers show an unlikely awareness of current affairs by saying, “Let’s hope they don’t discover oil here, or else we’d have real problems.”
And yet, a film set to rattle Hollywood’s opulent guilt, Blood Diamond is hard not to admire. Crammed full of exhilarating set-pieces and panoramic photography, it also includes the DiCaprio role most likely to snag Best Actor loot. Not quite up to The Departed, this is nevertheless the conscience-pinging Oscar loves. What’s more, by keeping the troubles at a safe distance, shrouded behind soundbites, viewer guilt never becomes too uncomfortable. In fact, come the credits (“It is up to the consumer to insist on non-conflict diamonds”), we have become impotent bystanders in a conflict out of our control. An earlier montage shows good stones mixing with bad way before vendors sell them. What can we do?
The diamond business is a confusing, cyclical one: full of Western hypocrisy, indigenous tragedy and billions of pounds – issues Blood Diamond skims through with cold, cinematic efficiency. No one here small-talks, instead they ram points home. As legend has it, Africa’s red soil runs with the claret-spill of centuries old conflict. Watch Zwick’s film, though and you’ll feel moved, but not moved enough – unlikely to feel the dirt running through your jewellery-laden fingers.
Gripping action and an excellent DiCaprio cannot disguise what is, essentially, an effective, if shallow, exposition of a hugely complex global issue.