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Star-studded, flawed diamond

'Blood Diamond' tries to mix African politics and action.

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Hollywood has found Africa. On the heels of such films as "The Constant Gardener," "Hotel Rwanda," "The Last King of Scotland," and "Catch a Fire," we have "Blood Diamond," set in Sierra Leone in 1999 when rebels are waging war on the government.

Much more so than those earlier films, "Blood Diamond" freely combines political grandstanding with action-adventure heroics. The filmmakers demonstrate how the diamond trade in Africa perpetuates corruption and bloodshed, but they also want to deliver a rip-roaring saga.

It is not easy to make this sort of combination work; usually one or the other element falls down. In this case, the spectacular action sequences take precedence over the more didactic political material. Still, one understands the impulse on the part of director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Charles Leavitt to make something grander than a conventional political thriller.

The film begins with a rebel attack on a village. A local fisherman, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), is enslaved and his family is forced to flee. Laboring in the mining camps, Solomon unearths an enormous diamond and, before escaping during a government raid, hides it.

Zimbabwean diamond smuggler and self-described soldier-of-fortune Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) learns of the diamond and attempts to coax the wary Solomon into retrieving it to save his family. An American journalist, Maddy Brown (Jennifer Connelly), gets wind of Danny's machinations and tries to enlist him in her investigation into the trafficking of "conflict stones" – diamonds mined in war zones and laundered by Western buyers.

To the filmmakers' credit, the relationship between Solomon and Danny never devolves into buddy-buddyism. Solomon is right not to trust Danny, whose charm is just one of many tools in his survival kit. (His stunning brutality is another tool.) The movie also doesn't overdo the romantic angle between Danny and Maddy, at least for most of the way. Maddy is so wised-up to Danny's ploys that, for her, yielding to him would be tantamount to defecting to the dark side.

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