My experience in reviewing movies that are deeply moving and meaningful is limited. I have, in the past, stuck with what I knew I could review: comic titles (Batman Begins, Superman Returns, V for Vendetta), action movies (Payback, Pirates of the Caribbean) or animated programs (Animaniacs, Samurai Jack). When the chance to review Blood Diamond came about I originally balked—I certainly wanted to see the film, but I didn’t know if I wanted to review it. Through a series of events I ended up getting a review copy of Blood Diamond – Two Disc Special Edition and after spending a day watching the film and the hours of special features contained in the set, I’m quite comfortable in saying it ranks as one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.
Blood Diamond follows the story of a diamond smuggler Danny Archer (DiCaprio), a father, Solomon Vandy (Hounsou), whose life was ripped apart by R.U.F.’s and a journalist, Maddy Bowen (Connelly) trying to better educate the world on the atrocities going on in Africa. The main driving force behind the plot is Archer’s quest for the large diamond that Vandy found while under imprisonment with the R.U.F.s. While that may be the story behind it, the viewer is given a look into the horrific world of Sierra Leone in the late 90s.
The film generated plenty of buzz for itself in the end of 2006 and created a lot of extra press when the Oscars came into play. While neither DiCaprio or Hounsou won in their categories, it’s evident why they were nominated after only watching the film for twenty minutes. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Archer is immediately believable and Hounsou’s role as a father goes from warm to intense in a short span of time. While Connelly’s role isn’t as emotional as DiCaprio and Hounsou’s, she plays an integral part of the story, albeit a minor one. Not to say her acting is weak—it by no means is—it’s just not as impacting as what Hounsou is able to belt out several times during the course of the film.
It’s easy to watch a film like Blood Diamond or Lord of War and disregard the horrific scenery we’re given as nothing more than “movie stuff.” Knowing people who live in Sierra Leone, it’s hard for me now to wonder how I could have ever thought that while watching films such as Blood Diamond in the past. It’s all very much real and while Hollywood may embellish a few things here and there, it really doesn’t touch on what the people of Sierra Leone have gone through.
I realize a DVD review is hardly a place to discuss the state and affairs of the world, but this movie is so powerful with some of its imagery it’s hard not to discuss it, even in passing.
Blood Diamond is certainly one of the best films that 2006 had to offer and was worthy of every one of its Oscar nominations. Do yourself a favor and pick up the DVD or at least give a rental—the film is a must see.
Like most recent Warner Home Video releases, Blood Diamond comes in two flavors: single disc and double disc. The only special features on the single disc is the director’s commentary, while the two disc sports that, a theatrical trailer, a documentary on the diamond industry in Africa and three featurettes revolving around the film. Below is the review of the two-disc set.
Packaged in a two-disc tray amaray case, Blood Diamond comes with a slip cover and no inserts or chapter listings on the inside. Disc one’s art matches that of the cover and disc two features a shot of Solomon holding the diamond. As a side note, Canadian releases obviously have a French translations for nearly everything written in English on the cover, making for one ugly looking…everything, really. Hell, the photos on the back of the case are obscured by the extra French writing. Ah well…
Menus are static with music (the instrumental kind, thankfully. None of the Nas music.) over the main menus only. The image that appears as “wallpaper” when the DVD is stopped mirrors that of disc one’s main menu. Menus are easy to navigate and unobtrusive.
The first disc of the set holds the film, three 5.1 Dolby tracks (English, French and Spanish), director’s commentary and a theatrical trailer for the film. Also included are trailers for other Warner films prior to the DVD menu loading, but are easily skipped by hitting the Menu button on your remote.
Video and audio for the film are exceedingly strong. There is some grain and compression evident, but for the most part it’s a strong transfer that doesn’t hamper the film any. Audio isn’t too engulfing, but it does get rather dramatic during the siege of Freetown. Bullets fly everywhere, though the rear channels still remain rather quiet during everything.
Hearing director Edward Zwick talk about the film for the entire two hours had its ups and downs. While the commentary track was dry at times, he did spout off some interesting bits of information, although Zwick had the tendency to repeat what was happening on screen. He gave insight on shooting schedules, actor relations and just about everything we saw on screen, even pointing out what was CGI (I had no idea there was even an ounce of CGI in the film, so they did good on that front). While I did find my mind wandering during the commentary track, it’s worth listening to for those interested in more filming tales, as the featurettes on the second disc don’t offer too much up.
If that wasn’t a perfect segue into discussing the second disc contents, I don’t know what is! So, on this second disc we get a fifty-minute documentary on the current state of the diamond business in Sierra Leone. While the introduction of the Kimberly Process has stunted a lot of illegal trafficking of diamonds in Sierra Leone, it’s still prevalent due to higher prices on the black market and the fact that when you do it illegally you don’t have to pay massive fees each year. This documentary even goes so far as to gather rough diamonds and attempt to sell them in New York, where the diamonds are supposedly required to have Kimberly Process certification. It’s disturbing how quickly he was able to find buyers.
The documentary itself is very much worth watching and shows just how much the diamonds tore Sierra Leone apart and how its effects are felt today. It’s easily the highlight of the second disc, which sadly isn’t saying much as the extras on this set are rather weak.
Rounding off the set is a trio of featurettes that showcases cast and crew interviews. We hear from DiCaprio most due to his focus featurette on the character of Archer, while Connelly comes in second with her women in journalism featurette and Hounsou barely gets any face time at all, spouting only a few lines on the “Inside the Siege of Freetown” feature. It’s a shame we don’t hear more from Hounsou as he was easily the standout actor of the film.
In any case, the special features on the second disc are hit and miss. While they’re entertaining and enlightening, aside from the “Blood on the Stone” documentary, you really don’t gain much film experience from watching the extra featurettes, especially due to their short run time. Still, I’d say the two-disc is worth it if you can find it for around the same price as the single disc. Like most WHV two-disc releases as of late, the second disc is often mediocre, but combined with the director commentary, the featurettes compliment each other nicely, making for over three hours of extras to watch after the credits roll from your initial viewing of Blood Diamond.
Overall both the film and two-disc special edition come Highly Recommended. This is a must-see film that will have a place on my DVD shelf for a long time to come. If you cannot find the two-disc set, then at least pick up the single—the film alone is worth the price of the DVD.
Blood Diamond is now available on single and two-disc DVD. For more thoughts on Blood Diamond, check out James Harvey’s brief thoughts on the film at the bottom of his recent The Departed Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review.