Director Edward Zwick seems to think that Blood Diamond is a sociopolitical drama that will spur people to be wary each time they buy diamonds. He even includes - awkwardly - a consumer advisory at the end: Always ask your jeweler for a "conflict-free" diamond, he warns, or you may perpetuate genocide.
What Zwick delivers, though, is a mere action movie, as farfetched as it is frenetic. In scene after scene, attractive stars miraculously dodge barrages of indiscriminately fired machine gun bullets while hundreds of extras fall dead around them.
The action sequences are shockingly brutal and so exiting that it's easy to get caught up in this film. But after a while, graphic realism and an ultra-serious tone, together with the sheer preponderance of the violence, work against the effectiveness.
Flawed hero Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) survives more close calls than Indiana Jones, but the film lacks the sardonic tongue-in-cheek attitude that made audiences eager to overlook the implausibility of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Set in the 1990s amid horrific civil war in Sierra Leone, Blood Diamond revolves around Archer, a cynical diamond smuggler who knows how to turn systemic corruption and personal greed to his advantage.
He hooks up with Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who has been taken from his family and enslaved by rebels. He's forced to mine the diamonds used to finance the rebels' cause. He comes across a massive pink diamond and hides it from his captors.
After Vandy escapes, Archer learns of the diamond and forces him into a partnership. Vandy agrees to take Archer to the spot where he buried it; Archer says they'll split the profits and reunite Vandy's family.
They set off on a cross-country hike, interrupted by mass murders and military battles and long scenes of awkward exposition and clumsy dialogue that explains the international conspiracy that fuels the civil war.
Along the way, they pick up a third cohort, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist who inexplicably falls for the essentially vile Archer.
When the bullets fly, Blood Diamond is a thrill. But the thrills wane. We become inured to the horror, and after a while even the sight of 9-year-old boys gleefully murdering entire villages ceases to be quite so effective.
DiCaprio's performance is decent, but he's still a bit too fresh-faced for this role. Hounsou's trademark intensity burns through every scene. Connelly is typically intelligent, though she seems to be in this movie largely to give us something exceedingly pleasant to look at (in addition to the travelogue-style shots of African mountainscapes).
In the end, Zwick (who also gave us Glory and The Last Samurai) fails to deliver the moral jolt he seems to intend. Instead, he proffers a solid shoot-'em-up.
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly
Rating: R; strong violence and language
Running time: 145 min.