As the cliché goes, if you want to send a message, use Western Union. Ed Zwick's movies have traditionally been earnest, sober-minded action-adventure dramas that offer up some supposed serious examination of a societal ill. Blood Diamond keeps up that streak by showing how the illegal smuggling of diamonds impacts African countries. While Zwick does a fine job of laying out the confluence of bloodthirsty rebellions, corrupt governments, and greedy foreign interests that keep many African nations in a constant state of turmoil, his story of an Afrikaner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who sacrifices his own self-interest for the love of a woman and the good of a decent African man is so relentlessly square that the film plays more like a ham-fisted lecture than a movie. As is usual for Zwick, Blood Diamond offers beautiful, coffee-table-book-quality cinematography. While these images are pleasant to look at, the thuddingly obvious subtext of horrible atrocities occurring in such beautiful places makes it difficult to be awed by the natural majesty, and they constantly betray the schematic mindset of the director.
DiCaprio is enough of a movie star to know how to own the screen, and his selfish rogue who learns to care for others is a stereotype that goes all the way back to Bogart in Casablanca. Leo tries, and viewers should be very thankful for the effort, but the serious tone of the picture constantly douses the sparks of life he brings to the material. Jennifer Connelly is entirely unbelievable in the role of a hard-as-nails, internationally respected reporter. Some people, like Dennis Farina, were born to swear on screen, but Connelly is not one of those people. When she spews out the f-word, she does it with a world-weariness that rings false. She sounds like a 12-year-old girl trying the word out on her parents for the first time. Djimon Hounsou might be a very talented actor, but in this film -- as in most of his major films -- he is not playing a person as much as he is a symbol of "otherness" that white characters must learn to respect in order to teach the movie's moral. Here, as with In America and Amistad, he suffers both beautifully and majestically, making it hard to think of the character as a real individual. It's not a bad performance; it's a badly conceived character.
In the end, Zwick's motivations are good-hearted, but that doesn't excuse the fact that the film is a crushing bore because he talks down to his audience. The lessons and facts and morals are spoon-fed to the viewer, and Zwick fails to grab our attention during the action scenes, so there ends up being very little of interest for the audience. The movie ends with white text on a black screen stating that "you" must do your part. Instead of making an entire film to drive that simple point home, Zwick might as well have filmed a PSA with a character like Smokey the Bear -- maybe Leo the Zebra -- and left us with the tagline, "Remember, don't buy illegally smuggled diamonds. Only you can prevent genocide."