A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature action-drama isn't for young kids (even though Leo lovers may want to see it). It's extremely violent, with frequent scenes of war and abusive labor practices (villagers' hands are chopped off and mineworkers are shot dead for disobeying orders). Weapons include guns, machetes, knives, grenades, missiles, Molotov cocktails, and AK-47s. Most upsetting: Young boys are kidnapped from their families and trained to kill, chanting "Shed their blood." The children also smoke cigarettes and drink. Displays of anger lead to arguments and fistfights. During a massacre scene, a body is thrown from a balcony, bodies spurt blood, and buildings explode. Characters drink frequently and smoke lots of cigarettes. Language includes many uses of "f--k" and one pronounced use of the African racist term "kaffir."
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What's the story?
When devoted Sierra Leone husband/father Solomon Vandy's (Djimon Hounsou) family is dispersed by rebel militias and his young son Dia (Kagiso Kuypers) conscripted to serve as a child solider, Solomon is sent to work as a diamond miner. As luck has it, he finds a gigantic 100-karat "pink"; Zimbabwe-born solider of fortune Danny (Leonardo DiCaprio) happens to hear of this, and soon the two undertake a tense and untrusting agreement: Danny will help Solomon find his family ... and a buyer for the diamond. But Danny is set onto a moral-lesson-learning path -- not only by his relationship with Solomon, but also by a new friendship with U.S. reporter Maddy (Jennifer Connelly). Though she, too, distrusts Danny, she wants the story he can give her about the ins and outs of the illegal arms and diamond traffic. Danny dismisses Maddy's work in Sierra Leone and in other war zones as "writing about it" -- that is, observing and exploiting, just as he does. But she feels a passion for the cause, especially when she meets Solomon. Though Maddy is cynical about the effects of U.S media, she believes she can help by "writing about it." So she agrees to the plan: Danny will help her as she helps Solomon, and, in turn, Solomon will find his hidden diamond for Danny.
Is it any good?
BLOOD DIAMOND is equal parts earnest and muddled. While it does good work by bringing the lingering problem of African conflict diamonds back into the news, the movie itself is ungainly and retro, using white characters to illuminate the problem -- while also simplifying it. The film shows plenty of the effects of the diamond-and-arms traffic: battles and massacres involving a range of forces, from local militias to the Revolutionary United Front to the national military. The violence is horrific, and the effects are clearly devastating, but the focus on Danny's ethical education detracts from what seem like more urgent troubles (say, a million refugees).
The film does suggest that it understands its limits in several references to the racism that allows such systems of exploitation to persist and even thrive. Danny cajoles Solomon: "I know people, white people. Without me, you're just another black man in Africa, all right?" This is partly true, but the film makes this black man a figure for righteous vengeance, and his immediate targets are other black men in Africa, with large guns, bloody machetes, and scarred faces. White, designer-suited Europeans in Antwerp and London do appear as beneficiaries of the bloodshed, but they don't suffer the same sorts of visceral, audience-moving consequences as the villainous Africans.
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