Leonardo DiCaprio was yesterday nominated for an Oscar for his role as Danny Archer in Blood Diamond, while his co-star, Djimon Hounsou, is up for a Best Supporting Oscar. The film directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, The Siege) is first and foremost an action movie although it does do a good job of highlighting the misery caused by the illegal trade of conflict diamonds in Africa. But is it any good?
Well we have to admit that we weren't looking forward to seeing it after the terrible trailer and DiCaprio has never been one of our favourite actors. Add to that the 8am screening and we knew the film would have to work hard to win us over, but it did just that and coupled with last year's The Departed (itself up for a bunch of Oscars) we've had to change our opinion of Leo because he acts his socks off in this one.
The plot could easily have slipped into Indiana Jones meets Allan Quartermain territory as DiCaprio's Archer pursues a rare 'pink' diamond that will be his ticket out of Africa. Zwick though sets the action in Sierra Leone at the height of the civil war in 1999 allowing the film to take in true life harrowing events that help keep the tone of the film sombre despite the explosive set pieces. At the heart of the production is Hounsou's Solomon Vandy, a fisherman forced to work in the diamond fields by the rebels. He finds and hides the diamond before discovering that his family are missing somewhere in the war torn country . Archer offers to help him find them in exchange for the location of the diamond and an uneasy partnership is set up. This is no buddy movie though. Even towards the end of the film the two men are at odds, Archer the Rhodesian mercenary has no problem calling Solomon a kaffa and exchanging blows at a point when most Hollywood scripts would have had the two diving in slow motion and shooting the bad guys together.
It's DiCaprio's role that is probably the most interesting. He's a self centered bastard and although he mellows slightly as the film progresses it'd be hard to argue that he changes much at all. DiCaprio masters Archer's accent perfectly and in between the running from small arms fire and shooting people has a chance to let the bravado slip to Jennifer Connelly's much more moral centred American reporter. He uses her to get closer to the diamond, but she in turn uses the men to get closer to her story. Everyone in this movie is after something.
Zwick manages to highlight the plight of the ordinary people caught up in a conflict that is primarily fueled by the nation's own wealth, exploited by the men with guns and other outside influences. If the film has a weak point it's the focus on the role of international diamond traders and the film's resolution feels a little tacked on when it would have been a much stronger ending to finish the film ten or fifteen minutes earlier in the hills of Sierra Leone rather than here in London.
The acting though cannot be faulted. Even when the script borders on the melodramatic the cast do well in keeping things gritty and fucked up enough to stop it ruining the movie. Both Connelly and DiCaprio started off as child actors so it's appropriate to mention 14-year old Kagiso Kuypers. As Solomon's son Dia he gives one of Blood Diamond's better performances, a traumatised child soldier forced to kill by the rebels. These scenes along with the fall of Freetown don't shy away from the horror of the civil war and while the film is a far cry from more serious films (Hotel Rwanda springs to mind) it manages to do a good job of juggling the 'entertainment' with the setting and as such is a far more successful film than something like The Constant Gardener.
Does Blood Diamond deserve the Oscars? Hounsou probably has a good shot and we reckon his role here was much better than the competition although Mark Wahlberg may beat him on the night (if the Academy don't get all misty eyes over Alan Arkin's grumpy old fart). DiCaprio too we think is in a with a good chance here. It's a role with a message and yet his character has a wobbly moral centre and it really is the best thing we've seen him do. That said we haven't seen Peter O'Toole in Venus yet - we're off to that this evening so we'll report back tomorrow on his chances...
Over the crease we have a little video from yesterday's press conference where Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou share their initial thoughts on the movie (although we didn't film the bit where Ms Connelly shared a story of baboons breaking into her hotel room and drinking the mini bar).
Blood Diamond opens on Friday.