An ex-mercenary turned smuggler. A Mende fisherman. Amid the explosive civil war overtaking 1999 Sierra Leone, these men join for two desperate missions: recovering a rare pink diamond of immense value and rescuing the fisherman's son, conscripted as a child soldier into the brutal rebel forces ripping a swath of torture and bloodshed across the alternately beautiful and ravaged countryside. Directed by Edward Zwick, this urgent, intensely moving adventure shapes gripping human stories and heart-pounding action into a modern epic of profound impact.
For more about Blood Diamond and the Blood Diamond Blu-ray release, see Blood Diamond Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on March 28, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Blood Diamond is part of a growing trend in Hollywood--an action/drama with a
social/political conscience. The plight of most Africans is heartbreaking. The continent's poverty,
tribal rifts and corrupt
governments all but ensure exploitation and war. Sierra Leone is a prime example; a place of
brutality, corruption and disease pandemic. According to Wikipedia, it is the lowest ranked country
on the Human Development Index. The
crisis perpetuated by the diamond mines of Sierra Leone provides a visible link to the West.
Hollywood decided this link may be of interest to audiences--at least if it's produced as an
ambitious, big budget movie with the hottest actor of the last decade. And that's where Leonardo
DiCaprio fits in.
On the heels of The Aviator and The
Departed, it seems that Warner's answer to any big-budget film idea that may not bring
enough box-office dollars solely on the merits of its story is to cast DiCaprio in the lead role. A
story about Howard Hughes? Ok, if DiCaprio plays him. How about a Bostonian version of
Infernal Affairs? Ok, if DiCaprio plays the good guy. In Blood Diamond, he is cast
in a challenging role as
Danny Archer. Bucking the odds, DiCaprio rises to the challenge and pulls off his
performance since The Basketball Diaries. Problem solved? Not quite. But it is a thrilling
film, and a solid Blu-ray to add to your collection.
Soloman Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) and Danny Archer (Leonardo
DiCaprio) march across the plains in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.
Blood Diamond kicks off as villager Soloman Vandy (Djimon Hounsou in a heartfelt
performance) is kidnapped by a band of rebels, separated from his wife and child and forced to
work in the mines. There, he finds an enormous diamond and manages to hide it from the rebels
government forces raid the illegal operation and haul all the miners off to jail. Word of Vandy's
spreads fast and attracts South African smuggler Archer, who arranges for Vandy's release. With
Vandy caring only about his family and Archer caring only about the diamond, idealistic American
journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly in an uneven role) bridges the gap. She sniffs a story
and uses her contacts
to locate Vandy's wife. But it will take much more--like the funds generated by a giant diamond--
to save Vandy's family and bring redemption to the tortured Archer. Together, the three
characters traverse war-torn Sierra Leone, relying on their wits and allies, but will they all
Director Edward Zwick often lands the difficult job of trying to turn epic-in-scope and flawed-in-
conception screenplays into motion pictures. To his credit, he is an
technician and does great work with the tools he is given. In Blood Diamond, the
problems are analogous to The Last Samurai. A Hollywood megastar is again transformed
to become the begrudging savior of ethnic villagers, and through him the audience bears
witness to redemption. DiCaprio manages to keep up a somewhat convincing tough-and-tortured
demeanor and he even maintains a South African accent through the entire film. But, like
Zwick's collaboration with Tom Cruise,
the "white male narcissism" factor is off the charts. Worse, the Bowen character preaches and
nags and becomes the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times editorial. I found myself often
questioning why either of these characters belong in a legitimate movie about Sierra Leone's
tragedy? Of the three main characters, only Hounsou delivers anything approximating legitimacy
and authenticity to the film. He makes the audience care about him and--through him--we care
about the plight
of the villagers in Sierra Leone.
The video performance of the BD is a mixed bag. While the 1080p, 2.40:1 VC-1 codec yields a
detailed image that I found easy to enjoy, closer
inspection reveals problems. Most of these are attributable to shortcomings in the black level. At
first I thought the reason the level seemed a bit light was due to my older generation plasma, but
upgraded to a Kuro model that presents accurate blacks, I realize Blood Diamond
rarely achieves deep, inky black level even in night scenes or in the jungles of Sierra Leone.
the grey areas were not smooth gradients, appearing somewhat blotchy. Critics of film grain and
digital noise will also find much to abhor, although the grain was present in the theatrical release
of the film.
The daylight scenes are much easier on the eyes, with great definition. Watch the scene where
three main characters make their way across the African plains toward the mines were Vandy
taken after being kidnapped. Watch the definition of the African grasses in the foreground. They
appear distinguishable, with good
resolution. The characters' faces and clothing, the wooden shanties and landscapes too all benefit
from strong definition.
While the detail is good, depth suffers a bit from the scarcity of true black level, and occasionally
from the camerawork. However, skin
tones appear realistic on both whites, e.g., DiCaprio, and blacks, e.g., Hounsou.
The audio mix of Blood Diamond is ambitious and immersive. Gunfire and voices are crisp
and detailed with good treble and taut bass. Many scenes make ample use of
the LFE channel as well, although there isn't gobs of detail in the midrange, even during
female dialogue, which is a good measure of the richness and quality of the recording. Part of the
above average audio performance lies in the lossless PCM track, but at 48
kHz and 16-bit, it is not much better than CD quality and yields only 4.6 mbps. Still, the sonic
resolution is better than
standard DD or DTS material.
Listen to the scene after Archer gets Vandy out of prison, as the civil unrest breaks out in violence
the city streets. The gunfire rings out with authority and the shouts convey an immediacy--
fierceness and menacing qualities--that are best conveyed with lossless PCM. The imaging and tonal
balance is good. Dialogue may be a touch louder than usual in mix, but this lets me ride out the
thunderous action sequences without having to adjust the volume at all. Even the tasteful score
sounds sweet. Again, it is not heavily detailed but few will have any complaints.
Edward Zwick does it again. Nice audio commentary, addressing precisely what's on-screen. One
gets the sense of his technical skills and attention to detail. The narration isn't the most exciting,
though, and it could benefit from an upgrade in humor. There is much Zwick reveals about the
making of the movie, and in that respect it is an essential part of the package.
Blood on the Stone--The standout bonus feature--well, the standout production on the
BD including the film itself, for that matter--is a 50-minute documentary by Sorious Samura. It
covers the horrors of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone. Samura's brother died in conflicts
driven by the diamond business. The documentary is not for young or squeamish audiences, as it
shows the results of the bloodshed in Sierra Leone with more candor and less nonsense than
Blood Diamond itself. Thankfully, the documentary is produced in 1080p, albeit some of
the footage appears to be lower resolution.
Focus Points--A collection of content intended to be produced as picture-in-picture
interactive vignettes seems rather clumsy and low-resolution, but there are still many gems to
mine here. Clocking in at more than 45 minutes, though, it will take viewers a while to wade
through all of it.
Becoming Archer--Fans of DiCaprio will delight in the eight-minute featurette focusing on
the lead actor's transformation into Danny Archer.
Journalism on the Front Line--Jennifer Connelly as Maddy Bowen is the subject of this
five-minute featurette, as she pursues her story. One could call it pseudojournalism of an actress
playing a pseudojournalist.
Inside the Siege of Freetown--A ten-minute analysis of the most violent scene of the
movie, this inside look at the film's approach to the violence features behind-the-scenes
interviews and footage from the film.
The supplementary material wraps up with a music video for NAS--Shine On 'Em and a theatrical
trailer--both of which are in standard definition.
Blood Diamond is a good movie and Zwick, DiCaprio and the others are to be commended
for their job with the script they are given, but my complaints are similar to those of The Last
Samurai. The film tries to be more epic than it is, and seems to buckle under its own weight.
Why not immerse the audience in the reality of Sierra Leone? Isn't there a way to develop an
engaging plot about the plight of people in a foreign culture without using a bigshot Hollywood star
to pump up the box office numbers? In the final analysis, Blood Diamond is an identity
crisis--an action film that gets too weighted down with politics and social relevance. Or is it a political
drama that gets too weighted down with action sequences and swashbuckling? The filmmaker
couldn't decide and left the decision to the audience. But its engaging narrative, solid action and
quality picture and sound do make for a welcome addition to
many a Blu-ray library.