DVD SPECIAL FEATURES REVIEW: Blood Diamond (2-Disc Special Edition)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Honsou and Jennifer Connelly.

Director: Edward Zwick

143 mins

THE FILM:

Blood Diamond is an explosive social message movie about ‘conflict diamonds’ couched inside a rip-roaring classical Hollywood narrative. According to screenwriter Charles Leavitt who pitched the idea as ‘part Treasure of Sierra Madre, part Traffic’, the film is somewhat earnest in its yearning for Oscar platitudes. It managed a few nominations through strong performances by Leonardo DiCaprio (bristling and swaggerring in his Boer accent) and Djimon Honsou (alternately quiet and explosive). Because it’s first an adventure story with a clear goal, the driving pace doesn’t let up but it has enough good character moments to make this journey for a pink diamond worthwhile.

THE SPECIAL FEATURES:

AUDIO COMMENTARY with director Edward Zwick

Zwick is a soft-spoken man with a Zen calm. He talks with pointed insight into the filmmaking and unfurls his immersive knowledge of the diamond industry and the continent of Africa. Some of the highlights from the commentary include:

  • Painting the background of locations through production design to fill in for different settings
  • The difficulty of shooting in specific geographic terrains like a running river
  • The need for little or no rehearsals and to create a space for the actor in order to preserve the originality of the line reading
  • A cool tip on how to shoot a scene inside a helicopter
  • The need to hire a good line producer to handle the logistics and planning for the major action sequences
  • The frustration of timing a Steadicam shot for an explosion to go off
  • Limited shooting hours hamstrung by uncooperative goats and complexity of scene
  • A cool tip on using CG not calling attention to shots
  • A dissection of acting from a scene between DiCaprio and Connelly
  • How Eduardo Serra’s cinematography evokes the feeling of Africa
  • Shooting scenes out of order and the challenge of matching their tone and weather
  • Trivia: Bridge of the River Kwai is one Zwick’s favorite films

It’s a quietly engaging commentary with Zwick further imparting his knowledge of his research into diamonds and Africa in general. 

Special Feature #1: Blood on the Stone (50:00) 

This documentary on the diamond trade chronicles Sorious Samura’s exploration into investigating if conflict diamonds still exist and how diamonds are still ending up on fingers in the western world despite the Kimberley Process. Samara appears to be the patron soul of the movie itself and was hired as a consultant for Blood Diamond. Samura takes us on journey as he narrates in a heavy, regretful voice and illuminates all facets of the diamond industry from: 

  1. How the Kimberley Process works – the certification process of diamonds
  2. A visit to illegal diamond mines in Sierra Leone and the Congo
  3. An emotional conversation with ex-child soldiers
  4. Interview with a diamond dealer
  5. The corruption and bribery involved for diamond miners to get permits
  6. The perspective of diamond workers and their channels to smuggling
  7. Samura’s own experiment to smuggle a pseudo-diamond across porous Sierra Leone borders
  8. The trading of conflict diamonds on the black market in Guinea
  9. Secretly filming selling diamonds to dealers in New York City

Part-Dateline NBC, part video diary, Samura doesn’t hold back his thoughts on the indignities he encounters along the way and this doc is more than worth the journey into the heart of darkness that is Africa. 

Ed Zwick: Great actors are sponges. You never can predict or know what they’re going to get but they want more and more and they want to meet the real people.

Special Feature #2: Becoming Archer (8:29) 

DiCaprio delineates his journey into becoming Danny Archer, the hero of the story. According to the actor, the appeal of the story lies in its telling of where Africa is today rather than the diamonds. This short featurette showcases: 

  1. DiCaprio’s immersion into the environment
  2. The actor studying with a dialect coach (he nailed the scene with the pidgin dialect)
  3. The actor in weapons training
  4. The producers lauding his efforts

There’s not much here in this special feature to really delve into DiCaprio’s process or the choices for his character and it ends up being just a promotional talking heads.  

Special Feature #3: Journalists on the Frontline (6:07) 

Jennifer Connelly chronicles her research into her role as Mandy Bowden as she talks about plunging into the fearless world of female journalists inside war zones. The precarious roles of journalists are expounded upon further via interviews with Zwick, DiCaprio and producer Marshall Herskovitz. This is a very summary treatment of a more complex subject and as such isn’t that noteworthy of a feature on this disc. 

Special Feature #4: Inside the Siege of Freetown (10:28) 

Zwick discusses his travails in recreating the massive siege of Freetown that occurred in January 1999. The director is no stranger to covering massive action sequences in his previous films and here he breaks it down for us by: 

  1. Talking about his overall vision of the siege – chaotic but safe
  2. Working with his team using a scale model to work out the specifics
  3. Samara’s role in advising the production in recreating the siege
  4. The fine balance between what weapons and explosives could be used on set and what could be computer generated
  5. A training camp for the local stunt people
  6. A short clip of DiCaprio being action directed by Zwick
  7. Zwick’s process of storyboarding the action
  8. How to throw a guy over a balcony railing
  9. The crew’s perspective on working with Zwick

There are some very cool bits in here, especially watching several cameras cover the action and the logistics behind handling a large action sequence.  But it’s precisely these bits that prevent this special feature from skating into another ass-kissing filler. 

Djimon Honsou: Obviously we have an amazing director and a great director which is always defined by his ability of communicating and you have to be a great communicator. Certainly a great communicator is also a great listener. 

Finally, there is a music video by Nas which is interesting to note how much of an influence hip hop has on the rebels in the ravaged countries where blood diamonds are smuggled through.  All in all, this is a nicely packaged DVD with some good special features with a great documentary on the subject matter toplining it. 


Directors, DVD, Filmmaking, Reviews


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