Warner Bros. // 2006 // 143 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // July 12th, 2007
"In America, it's bling bling. But out here it's bling bang."
Blood Diamond was a film designed to bring some more light into the practices of the diamond industry. It received quite a bit of press and its stars even received Oscar nominations for their work. It has been out on standard-definition DVD for awhile now and is now being released in the high-definition formats. How does it pan out on Blu-ray?
From a story by Charles Leavitt (K-PAX) and directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai), the film is set in Sierra Leone in 1999 and follows Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou, Constantine), whose small village is attacked by rebel soldiers. The rebels shoot many people, and those who flee eventually manage to find their way to refugee camps. Those that are captured are given several fates; the children are indoctrinated into the rebel forces via a combination of re-education mixed with healthy doses of drugs and alcohol, while others have their right hands amputated as a symbolic gesture or are forced to mine diamonds for the rebels so that said diamonds can be sold to fund the rebels' overthrow of the government. Solomon's family is splintered, his son goes with the rebels while his wife and daughter make their way to refugee camps while he works in a labor camp, where he finds a rare pink tinted diamond and hides it. A diamond smuggler named Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed) learns about this diamond and would like nothing more than to acquire it, so the two strike a "deal" -- they split the diamond's value once sold and Archer helps Solomon find his family. With the help of an American investigative journalist (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind) who wants to uncover more about the diamond trade, the plot thickens. For two hours and 25 minutes.
To perhaps fully appreciate the type of message that Blood Diamond is conveying, one first has to accept the premise behind the product that is bandied about during the film and is even in the title, and that is of the conflict-free diamond. Simply put, those are diamonds that are bought in areas that are free of internal strife or conflict. The film itself even states at the end that the only power consumers seem to have is to "insist" that the diamonds that they purchase are from conflict-free countries. However, the premise of conflict-free stones is pretty laughable. To show opulence while being globally thoughtful? Please. It's like getting caviar from free-range salmon or perhaps getting your foie gras organically generated. If you're going to be globally conscious, don't throw whatever weight the almighty dollar has behind these things.
The performances and the story itself were also things that I was annoyed by because of how conventional they were. DiCaprio does play Archer adequately for the most part, but he has a moment where he gets all verklempt, which throws much of that out the window. That this sheltered American kid is the beacon of all morality through the film is a little bit of a jump to believe. Hounsou is the emotional core of the film and he continues to excel in his roles, but I think he finds himself more and more in typecast roles as the emotional African male, which he's done in Amistad and In America. Connelly seems to throw in the occasional jab at events in America and represents a slightly more than platonic connection between her character and DiCaprio's that, considering all the death and depression, borders on silly.
To the credit of the filmmakers, they approach the subject material with a great deal of vigor. Women and children are killed with regularity and frequency in the film, and the means in which diamonds are smuggled, and how vital they are to a country, are shown with unflinching vision. You can tell there's no compromise in showing that diamonds are an ugly business, and Zwick's portrayal of this really makes you not want to buy any diamonds, much less any that are coming from a country at war with itself or not.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic presentation that uses the 1080p VC-1 codec doesn't really stand out from other releases. There's a lot of hand-held shooting and things are fairly kinetic, so there's not a lot of chances to stand around and marvel at the scenery. Some of the scenes that show off the exterior jungles do present a lot of depth and detail, but it's not a sizable leap in quality. The PCM soundtrack is the better presentation here, as the explosions (of which there are a few) are enveloping and robust, and the bullet hits (of which there are also a few) use more than adequate surround speaker usage. The film was nominated for Oscars in the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories, so thereÂ's reason why Blood Diamond sounds so good.
The extras are apparently repeats from the two-disc edition released earlier in 2007, starting with a commentary by Zwick, who provides a great deal of context about some of the incidents in the film. Ironically enough, the context Zwick provides here is lacking in the film itself, but I digress. He also discusses some of the detail surrounding the production itself, but overall this is a worthy complement to the film. Perhaps more compelling than the film, the documentary Blood on the Stone, produced by journalist Sorious Samura, goes where the film should have but didn't. There are lots of stories from the soldiers about what they did as children, along with a lot more images of harrowing brutality. It truly is effective and is required viewing, maybe more than the feature itself. Following that is a series of featurettes on the production. "Becoming Archer" covers DiCaprio's transformation, while "Journalism on the Front Line" discusses Connelly's character. "Inside the Siege at Freetown" is a technical breakdown on a scene from the film. A music video and trailer round the package out.
The Blu-ray version was released a month before the HD DVD release, and the HD DVD release has a few more extras given to it, including an "In Movie Experience" from Warner and some Web-based content that is lacking on the Blu-ray release. This is problematic for Blu-ray in the sense that the "In Movie Experiences" have been lacking on all the Blu releases, which is why higher-profile titles like Batman Begins, The Matrix and V for Vendetta aren't available on Blu-ray yet; this should be resolved within the next several months.
Compare Blood Diamond to Syriana, another film that deals with a hot topic. Syriana makes its statement with an understated tone, whereas Blood Diamond tends to try to club you over the head with morality. The ending of Syriana tends to inspire more action than that of Blood Diamond.
On a high-definition note, the extras are decent, but the technical qualities don't merit much of an upgrade.
The court wants to know where the filmmakers of Blood Diamond got their white horse, because it seems to have broken down on the backstretch.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Director Edward Zwick
* "Blood on the Stone" Documentary by Sorious Samura
* "Becoming Archer" Featurette
* "Journalism on the Front Line" Featurette
* "Inside the Siege of Freetown" Featurette
* Music Video
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Site
* Sorius Samura's Site