Blood [1997]

Leonardo DiCaprio puts a handsome face on an ugly industry: In parts of Africa, diamond mining fuels civil warfare, killing thousands of innocents and drafting preteen children as vicious soldiers. DiCaprio (The Departed) plays Danny Archer, a white African soldier-turned-diamond-smuggler who gets wind of a large raw jewel found by Solomon Vandy, a native fisherman (Djimon Hounsou, In America) recently escaped from enslavement by a brutal rebel leader. Archer offers a deal: He'll help Vandy find his war-scattered family if Vandy will share the diamond with him. Drawn into this web of exploitation is journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, Little Children), who agrees to help if Archer will tell her the details of how conflict diamonds make their way into the hands of the corporations who sell them to the Western world. DiCaprio is compelling because he never flinches from Archer's utter ruthlessness; Archer ends up doing the morally justifiable thing, but only because his desperate greed has led him to it. Hounsou and Connelly, though saddled with all the moral and political speeches, rise above the cant and keep the movie's treacherously formulaic plot rooted in human characters. But in the end, the story won't stick with you as much as the dead stillness in the child soldiers' eyes; the horror of African civil strife refuses to be contained by Blood Diamond's uplifting message--and the movie is all the more potent as a result. --Bret Fetzer

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