Lowdown: Take the Constant Gardener, Americanize it, and spice it up with plenty of action.
Edward Zwick has had his fair share of thrilling epics which provide some good fun and are often quite exhilarating but repeatedly fail at being true state of the art films. Glory, Legends of the Fall, and The Last Samurai are the examples that spring to mind; now Blood Diamond can be added to that ever growing list.
The story behind Blood Diamond is supposed to be the story of Africa, its colonialization, and its repeated abuse even now when imperialism is supposed to be a thing of the past. And it's all told by using many actors (most of them quite famous) whose personal stories intertwine (and pretty quickly; complexity is not on the agenda here). Djimon Hounsou is a Sierra Leone fisherman who loves his family until he is captured by rebels who kill most of his fellow villagers but spare him in order to use him as a slave to dig up rough diamonds. Leonardo DiCaprio is a tough cookie diamond smuggler / weapons dealer who smuggles the illegal diamonds out of Sierra Leone and sells them to cover up companies that end up getting them to jewelery shops all across the world. DiCaprio also provides quite an excellent performance: I don't recall ever seeing him this good and this natural. And Jeniffer Connelly is the token female role / sexual tension provider (although nothing really happens on this front) who while wasting her acting talents on a simple role also plays an American investigative reporter looking to find how illegal diamonds get legit and wants to tell the world about the price other people pay for their engagement rings. All their stories start rolling along when Hounsou discovers a diamond the size of a football, which the whole of Africa to hunt it down.
I won't say more about the plot, but I will say that Blood Diamonds is a heavy octane film, action wise. Bullets fly and chases chase throughout the film, which pretty much signals the end of the similarities with Constant Gardener - a film dealing with the same theme, the price Africa pays so that we can sleep tight. It's not just the action, it's the lack of subtlety: Constant Gardener shows you people suffering, Blood Diamond shows you people dying left and right and in all sorts of atrocious manners. This is not a film for the light of heart!
It is, though, very much still an American film. The heroes are very skilled in the art of running in between the bullets and taking cover behind bullet proof paper while everyone around them dies (in a manner that reminds you of Star Trek: whenever a character that is not of the main roles is introduced, you can start the countdown to its death; usually, you don't need to count more than 10). The end, though, is very much a cliche ending: sort of an all's-well-that-ends-well but-not-really-yet we-have-to-make-you-feel-good-as-you-go-out-of the-cinema-because-after-all-this-is-an-American-film type of an ending. You know what I mean; an end that is very different to the end you get in Constant Gardener. If while watching Blood Diamond you start thinking about the futility behind using diamonds as status items, then by the end of the film your doubts vanish. After all, the bad guys lose and the good guys win, don't they?
Well, not in reality. I don't know how much truth there is in this story of the corruption of the diamonds industry, but I do know that corruption is widespread in Africa and in the world entire; I do know that the world's poor are being abused by those who stand to profit from their situation. Blood Diamond fails to stand for their cause; it does, however, provide for an entertaining and thrilling view.
Best scene: A child is blindfolded, given with an AK-47, and told to shoot without realizing he's shooting at a person - until the blindfold is taken away. Spine chilling stuff.
Picture quality: Digital artifacts, especially edge enhancements, are evident throughout.
Sound quality: Very good - aggressive and thrilling - yet short on true excellence. We're bombarded with sound effects but there is no true feeling of being immersed in the sound field.
Overall: An imperfect film, yet still a thought provoking one if you wish to think, and definitely a very thrilling one. 4 out of 5 stars.