This is an amazing and emotional film that needs to be seen by everyone.
The DVD is a technical embarrassment with horrible picture quality and sub par extras.
Edward Zwick's films always strike a good chord with me because of their incredible emotional impact. The Last Samurai left such a grand impact on me that I was in tears at its incredible and emotional climax. Blood Diamond the same thing by establishing strong central characters with a clear objective that makes the film gripping and tense. The story revolves around Solomon Vendi (Djimon Hounsou) a local fisherman whose village is raided by local militia who are at civil war over the control over the diamond fields. These events took place in the late 90's and it serves as the backdrop of the film. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Rhodesian smuggler who works for a corporate diamond company in London he also works as a mercenary. He smuggles diamonds to the corporations so that they can remove them off of the market thus keeping supply low and demand high, that way they spike the prices. After Vendi is removed from his village and his family separated, he is put to work in the diamond fields where he comes across a pink diamond so rare that it could change the fate of not only his life but a nation's. Vendi is able to escape his imprisonment by the rebels but is put in prison by the police, and in prison he meets Danny Archer who now wants to set his sights on the hidden diamond. When Archer meets Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist, she believes that his story holds the key to revealing the truth behind the diamond corporations. When Vendi's son is recruited by the rebels he sets out on a quest to find his son while Archer wants the diamond so that he can leave Africa and start his troubled life over. Arnold Vosloo plays a general who is also after the diamond. So we have four people after one small stone for four different reasons.
The film has many sides to it. At times it's a dark look into the social and economical conflicts of Africa, sometimes it becomes a burning commentary on the nature of man, but overall this film is an intimate story of three characters placed within the setting. The main objective of the film is to tell the story of the characters where as in films like Tears Of The Sun or Black Hawk Down it's more about sending a central message. I'm not saying the latter films are bad, I enjoyed Tears Of The Suns and Black Hawk Down immensely. I'm also not saying that Blood Diamond is not trying to send a central message either. It's just that Blood Diamond really tries to tell a story, just like Zwick did with The Last Samurai. While the film portrayed a civil struggle in Japan it was more focused on Tom Cruise's and Ken Watanabe's characters so that when tragedy struck it had a strong emotional impact on the audience. Blood Diamond is not only emotional but it's incredibly tense and thrilling. There is lots of action in the film and the final air raid was executed perfectly. The story is solid and the film is an immense accomplishment. The reason why I knocked off half a star from my final rating was that I had two minor problems with the movie. The first thing that bothered me was that there were some structural problems in the story that weakened the impact that some scenes had. In my opinion I feel like the movie could have used another few weeks in the editing room. There were places where a few tweaks could have heightened the emotional impact of the film and have kept the pace of the film more consistent. I was pleased by the script though, Charles Leavitt did a fine job with the screenplay even though he has taken a long break from writing since his last effort with K-Pax. The second thing that bothered me was that once the movie ends and the credits start to roll we are hit with this hardcore rap song. I was absolutely shocked and disappointed with the decision to use rap in the end credits, it ruined the lasting effect of the film within a split second.
The film also displays some incredible artistic efforts. The cinematography is absolutely stunning. There is a very good chance that Eduardo Serra will be one of the directors of photography nominated this year at the Oscars. Some of the shots were truly breathtaking and of course you have to give credit to beautiful landscapes of Africa. The film's score was composed by James Newton Howard who relied heavily on African vocals for the amazing score. I have to mention here that Hans Zimmer is the pioneer of incorporating native sounds into a film's score based on location. Zimmer made African vocals his specialty with films like A World Apart, The Power Of One, The Lion King, and Tears Of The Sun. You have to acknowledge the Zimmer style in the score, but James Newton Howard makes it completely his own and delivers an amazing score. There were scenes where I wished the score was more prominent, but overall I was very happy with the musical efforts. All of the artistic efforts put together with the story make Blood Diamond what it is.
Does Leonardo DiCaprio give his best performance yet? In my opinion I really think so. He was amazing in the film and created a perfectly accessible character that we cared for. Many people are criticizing his accent when in fact he is using an extremely authentic Rhodesian accent. People assume that since he is white and an African he must be South African. That's not the case here, people. DiCaprio does an amazing job with the role. Djimon Hounsou is also equally amazing in the film. There are a few intimate scenes with his son that will bring you to tears. He plays an uneducated fisherman with his only interests in his family, but it is his character that shows the good of mankind in the middle of this mess. Jennifer Connelly is a great actress and she portrays a journalist just as a journalist would act. She uses her wits and looks to get the story, but her priorities are not to make headlines but rather to help change the world for the better. Arnold Vosloo has a small role in the film, but I like him and think he's an underrated actor. People will recognize him from The Mummy films and his guest role on the show 24. The acting in this film is superb; the characters all carry the film and make it something to remember.
Blood Diamond is gripping, thrilling and emotional. I shed some tears when I saw The Last Samurai and I indeed shed some tears when I saw Blood Diamond. It's an action film with so much substance; it really pulls you in as an audience member. The few structural problems and the rap song at the end credits are not enough for me not to highly recommend this film.
Important Note!: These featurettes do contain spoilers and reveal key scenes from the end of the film. If you have not seen the film then do not watch the features first. I don't know why anyone would, but I always like to stress it. I do not reveal spoilers in my reviews, but the content of the featurettes do.
Commentary From Director Edward Zwick:
In Zwick's commentary he discusses in detail the issues of handling some of the scenes. The most interesting being the attack on Freetown since they tried to recreate the scene exactly as it happened. The commentary as a whole is very informative.
Blood On The Stone:
This is a 50 minute documentary of the real-life conflict diamonds and it takes us from the finding of the stone all the way to the jewelry store. It's a great and interesting documentary that is a nice companion to the film.
This is a short featurette about how Leonardo DiCaprio trained and prepared for the part. It has some footage of him doing weapons training and him with his dialect coach. It doesn't really provide us with anything of great value, but it's an interesting watch.
Journalism On The Front Line:
Similar to the previous featurette, this one focuses mostly on Jennifer Connelly's character. It also talks about real-life journalists and their role in situations like those depicted in the film. Again, nothing of great value here.
Inside The Siege Of Freetown:
This 10 minute featurette is the best on the disc. Edward Zwick discusses the importance of this scene and how difficult it was to film it. The actors also talk about how working on a film like this makes it hard to keep up physically while still showing the emotions of the characters. We see the stunt department at work rigging explosions and getting stuntmen on harnesses. It's a great featurette especially since Zwick discusses storyboarding and his approach to filming. Too bad there aren't any other extras like this one on the disc.
"Shine On Em" Music Video By Nas:
Why this song was used in the end credits was beyond me. The film ends on such an emotional and powerful note and then this crap comes in.
The transfer is presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. Warner usually delivers decent transfers, which is why I am a bit puzzled. The picture is rather soft in my opinion with the colors not being as rich as what I remembered in the theater. During the night scenes when there is a shot of fire it's hard to see the edge of the flame, it almost dissolved within the background of the shot. In addition to haloing there are plenty of digital artifacts and the colors are very washed out. Hopefully Warner will release this on Blu-ray because this transfer is very disappointing. It's strange that every recent release thus far from Warner has had simultaneous HD and DVD releases while this film didn't.
While the picture was poor the sound was not. The Dolby 5.1 mix was impressive during the action scenes. Gun shots zip and snap and the surround channels are used to great effect. Dialogue is clear and balanced and sits mostly in the front center. Overall a great mix.
The two-disc set comes in your standard two-disc case with disc 1 on a hinge. The set also comes in a slipcase with the same artwork on it. Nothing special at all.
This is a terrific movie that needs to be seen. Unfortunately Warner screwed up the transfer horribly and the extras make me wonder what is so special about this edition. I am crossing my fingers that a Blu-ray release is somewhere down the road. Just don't get the idea that I am trashing the picture because I would prefer it on Blu-ray. The picture is really bad.