Blood Diamond Edward Zwick

First, the good news: Leonardo Dicaprio’s uneven South African accent isn’t half as distracting as it sounds like it’s going to be from the previews. The other piece of good news is that director Edward Zwick’s conflict diamond exposé has all the right intentions and brings some important socio-economic issues to the mass market.

The bad news comes with the execution. There are way too many ideas explored with far too little depth or insight: the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by the West, child soldiers, inter-tribal violence, the weapons trade, apartheid, greed, HIV and slavery. This is bad stuff, we get it, but rarely does the discussion rise above mere illustration. And since the story, which involves a diamond smuggler trying to dupe a slave miner out of a priceless diamond, is told mainly through a white man’s eyes (albeit a white African), the emotional hooks never penetrate much deeper than reinforcing the black African condition as "the other.”

This is most problematic during a graphic staging of a 1999 Freetown massacre. Black Africans are being gunned down left and right but the story’s emotional investment is with the Dicaprio character and his acrobatic dives and dodges through the carnage. This Anglo-framing might have worked if these characters had a little more depth but the dialogue they’re given sounds grafted on from a Dialogue Clichés for Dummies instruction manual. Lines such as "That diamond is my ticket out of this godforsaken continent” stink, as does "Someone like you… someone who knows his way around.”

Things only get worse with the arrival of Jennifer Connelly’s journalist, a stand-in for the compassionate Western eye on the Sierra Leon "problem.” She’s tough, we’re instructed, she’s smart, and yet she manages to sound totally detached from humanity. "It’s like one of those infomercials,” she says at one point, a wording that suggests infomercials are some strange Western phenomenon watched by other people, but certainly not journalists who care about conflict diamonds.

Overall it’s not the performances that stink — Dicaprio’s acting chops have grown in relation to the size of his pectoral muscles, both of which are on fine display here — it’s that Zwick, et al., should have been calling "script!” long before the camera started rolling. And another note to the director: it’s never a good idea to end your message movie with a hearty round of applause from a group of newly enlightened westerner dignitaries.

(Warner)