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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Edward Zwick
scr Charles Leavitt
with Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Jimi Mistry, David Harewood, Kagiso Kuypers, Arnold Vosloo, Antony Coleman, Michael Sheen, Stephen Collins, Basil Wallace, Benu Mabhena
release US 8.Dec.06, UK 26.Jan.07
06/US Warner 2h18
Brothers in arms: DiCaprio and Hounsou
Despite an over-reliance on contrived plot points, this film examines a couple of hugely important issues that have been largely ignored by Western media. It's gripping and worth seeing, but not as good as it thinks it is.
In 1999 Sierra Leone Solomon Vandy (Hounsou) is a fisherman whose village is invaded by civil war rebels, who send his wife and two daughters fleeing into the jungle, brainwash his 12-year-old son Dia (Kuypers) into joining their militia, and drag Solomon off to a diamond mine to help fund their fight. Archer (DiCaprio) is an arms dealer who helps the rebels hawk their diamonds, and when he hears that Solomon has found, and hidden, a giant diamond, he's suddenly interested in helping him. As is a nosey American journalist (Connelly).
Forced child-warriors and the conflict-diamond trade are such strong issues that we can see right through the narrative, which feels hideously misshapen by the Hollywood studio system, adding a feeble romance, father-son sentimentality and far too many escapes from fatal situations. In other words, the powers that be have turned an edgy story examining profoundly disturbing themes into an improbable adventure thriller.
Fortunately, Zwick is a solid director, and his cast makes the most of the material, from DiCaprio's edgy and fascinating Zimbabwean mercenary to Connelly's odd combination of cynicism and naiveté. But both of those roles aren't remotely stretching--they go exactly where we expect. The film's real heart is Hounsou, with a vibrant, full-blooded performance as a man driven beyond his limits. And as his son, Kuypers is pretty astonishing too.
The film sharply captures the true horrors of any African civil war, much of which can be blamed, naturally, on the former colonial powers and corporations that encourage disorder for their own financial benefit. Several sequences are difficult to watch--the carnage is shocking--and the filmmakers do address the emotional fallout while pointing a sharp finger at the indifference of comfortable Westerners to what's happening as a result of their consumerism. Yes, it's strong stuff that needs to be said. If only the filmmakers could've resisted forcing their point and let the people and places speak for themselves.
|Michelle Cohen, Redbridge: "Very thought provoking and extremely engaging film. Hounsou's acting is fabulous and can see why he has been nominated for an oscar. A little eye watering at times in terms of brutality but I'm sure it happens in real life which only makes the story more believable. It was the element of forced child soldiers which struck me the hardest - horrendous." (5.Feb.07)
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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