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Originally published Friday, December 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Blood Diamond": A glimmer of freedom in a war-torn country

Edward Zwick's "Blood Diamond" is a message movie, loosely wrapped in action-thriller paper, and consequently it's never difficult to see...

Seattle Times movie critic

Edward Zwick's "Blood Diamond" is a message movie, loosely wrapped in action-thriller paper, and consequently it's never difficult to see where it's going. Set in 1999 Sierra Leone, it's the story of a fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) who's found a rare diamond, and a soldier of fortune (Leonardo DiCaprio) who sees that diamond as a ticket out of an increasingly dangerous life. Around them whirls a bloody civil war, funded in part by smuggled diamonds and fought in part by child soldiers trained in brutality. The message, underlined in title cards at the end of the film for would-be diamond purchasers: Know where your jewels come from, and insist on documentation proving that your diamond was mined in a conflict-free zone.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Blood Diamond," with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Arnold Vosloo, David Harewood. Directed by Edward Zwick, from a screenplay by Charles Leavitt. 138 minutes. Rated R for strong violence and language. Several theaters.

"Blood Diamond," however, is more than a public-service announcement, worthy as the cause may be. Scripted by Charles Leavitt, it's a nicely crafted, almost old-school Hollywood thriller, featuring a star turn by DiCaprio (who, along with "The Departed," is having a fine season). Though it lacks the creative energy and artistic eye of last year's African-set thriller "The Constant Gardener," it moves along smoothly with a momentum of its own, and with characters who come to matter to us.

DiCaprio's Danny Archer, a Zimbabwe-born former mercenary, is neither a good guy nor a bad guy; rather, he's a man who's seen too much and has built a shell to isolate himself from the turmoil around him. His speech is loose and casual (with DiCaprio nicely handling the southern African accent); he grins when confronted and says "Magic" when others might say "OK." He's an odd pairing with Hounsou's Solomon, whose family is torn from him in an early, wrenching scene. Determined to get them back, Solomon is drawn into a tentative, wary alliance with Danny.

Both actors do fine work, as does Jennifer Connelly in a smaller role as a still-idealistic (but just barely) journalist who's in Africa to write about blood diamonds. She's got a looseness similar to DiCaprio's, and their scenes (in which their characters have something more than a flirtation and less than an affair) have a spark. Hounsou, who spends much of the film spitting out lines in a quiet fury, occasionally gets reduced to a third wheel. But the story begins and ends with him, and his shoulders easily hold the drama's weight.

This is, it should be noted, an extremely violent film (as befits its setting), and it contains some very disturbing scenes involving the child soldiers — among whose ranks Solomon's young son is eventually recruited. But it succeeds well at what it sets out to do: wrapping a worthy message in a compelling story.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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