Blood Diamond [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Shane Roberts & Noor Razzak (17th November 2008).
The Film

During Sierra Leone's civil war of 1999, fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) and his son Dia (Kagiso Kuypers) are grabbed by anti-government guerillas and separated. While being forced to pan for diamonds to fund the coup, Solomon discovers a huge diamond; instead of giving to his captors he hides it because he knows it could change his family's life. Apart form having to evade the rebels and the army he also draws the attention of ruthless smuggler and ex-mercenary Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) who will do anything for at least a cut of the action.

When a couple goes to choose an engagement ring the last thing they're usually thinking about is how many people may have suffered or died during the diamond's trip from the ground to the jewelry store. Working closely with Sorious Samura, maker of the documentary "Cry Freetown" (1999) on the same topic, director Edward Zwick's goal with "Blood Diamond" is to entertain but also to educate the audience on the chaos and violence the West and the diamond trade has brought to Africa just as ivory, rubber, gold and oil have done in the past. He does this extremely well by using the dramatic and fact laden script by scribe Charles Leavitt and some outstanding action scenes which involve some harrowing acts of violence. The film starts with one of the most affecting as Solomon's village is attacked and the rebels take sickeningly extreme measures to make sure people don't vote in the upcoming election. It sets the tone for the rest of the film and points out just how cheaply human lives can be treated when there's a profit to be made.

All the acting is very good, but it is lead by two exceptional and Oscar nominated performances; DiCaprio is totally convincing as the aggressive and selfish Archer. Unlike the usually Hollywood anti-hero he honestly seems irredeemable, but as you get to know him and see the situation he exists in (and hear a bit more of his past) you find his attitude a little more understandable and you find yourself willing him to do the decent thing rather than just expecting him to.

On the other side of the moral coin is Hounsou as Solomon, a strong and fiercely determined father who will let nothing and no-one convince him that finding his son is a lost cause. Holding on to the dream of Dia becoming a doctor, he needs the diamond as much as Archer wants it, but he isn't willing to compromise his integrity which bring them into repeated conflict.

Jennifer Connelly makes the most of the slightly under written role of Maddy, the photo journalist who connects with Archer. Although she's closer to the standard love interest than she should have been, she has some great scenes (including the final phone call) and she's a welcome addition to any film. It is also good to see Arnold Vosloo in a decent sized role as Colonel Coetzee, Archer's ex-commanding officer and head of the army unit also trying to claim the diamond. He's a great character actor and although he often plays villains he does it so well that he makes any film he's in that much more interesting.

Nominated for five Oscars, "Blood Diamond" is a Hollywood epic that evenly balances its action with its political conscience and features two standout acting performances, highly recommended.

Video

Warner Brothers has released this film in a widescreen ratio of 2.40:1 and has been mastered onto Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been created using VC-1 compression. Like most recent releases from Warner's the transfers are extraordinarily good. The best thing about these HD releases is that it presents films like this a pristine shape showing off the excellent photography, action and sheer scope of the film. The picture is razor sharp and crystal clear and the level of detail is beautifully presented showing off the production design and locations but also right down to subtle details and sweat rolling off the actor's faces. Colours appear vibrant, the greenery of the jungle is particularly striking and the harsh clay landscapes of North West Africa are brilliantly rendered as well. I was also impressed with the black levels, which are bold, deep and feature no noise. I could find no flaws or any compression related problems; this HD image can easily be considered reference quality.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included in English uncompressed PCM 5.1 presented at 48kHz/16-Bit/4.6mbps as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English PCM track. Previous Warner titles only included a standard 5.1 track even some recent films, but thankfully now that the Blu-ray format is catching on and more titles are coming out, they've finally added HD audio to their releases. If you haven't heard an HD audio track yet and are used to standard 5.1 then you don't know what you're missing. I'm sure in these harder economic times a new home cinema is not exactly on the top of the shopping list, but for cinephiles it's a must just to hear how awesome these tracks are. "Blood Diamond" is and incredible audio experience, the soundtrack is complex, brilliantly mixed with a wide range and is aggressive. The dynamics of the track are jaw dropping, with a depth that'll blow you away. The film's dialogue is clear and distortion free, the surround effects kick through your speaker system and add to the action sequences that truly immerses the viewer. Finally the score really does soar through the sound space, having written many Blu-ray reviews since the format's launch it does get a bit tiring finding new ways to tell readers how wonderful the audio or image is (and a vast majority of them are, but like DVD there are a few duds) you really do just have to hear it (and see it) for yourself.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Warner Brothers has released this film packed with extras that includes an audio commentary, a documentary, many featurettes, a music video plus the film's original theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by director Edward Zwick. In this track Zwick comments on the problems faced by the people of Sierra Leone and how the diamond trade has been the root of a lot of violence in that area. He remains largely screen-specific as the film rolls on and comments about various production issues such as locations, production design, as well as directorial issues such as themes and recurring motifs and imagery he used in the film (while pointing them out of course). He also comments on character motivations, dealing with violence specifically the decision on how brutal the depiction of the Freetown violence that erupted. From the track you learn rather quickly that Zwick likes to use the word "real", especially when dealing with things that actually happened (I do find this rather funny at times considering there are many action elements in this film that go beyond "real"). The track is an equal mix of production information and historical background on the film's topic.

"Blood on the Stone", a documentary which runs for 50 minutes 10 seconds. This is an investigative piece that follows the path of a diamond from the ground to the store. Journalist Sorious Samura takes a look at the Kimberly process (that is supposed to certify that a particular diamond is conflict free) and the legal and illegal diamond trade currently running in his home country of Sierra Leone. He takes us through the illegal process, working in the diamond mines and even showing us how easy it is to smuggle the diamonds out of the country. Even though the area is in peace it's eye-opening how easy it is to sell conflict diamonds and that a market is still accessible even though the Kimberly process is in effect.

"Becoming Archer" is a featurette and runs for 8 minutes 33 seconds. This clip takes a look at how Leonardo DiCaprio took on the role and transformed himself into the character. We learn about his interest in the project and what attracted him to it as well as the preparation he underwent which includes getting the accent right and weapons training which were utilised in helping deliver a believable performance.

The next featurette is entitled "Journalism On The Front Line" which runs for 5 minutes 12 seconds. This takes a closer look at the character of Maddy played by Jennifer Connelly. Here we see that Connolly managed to get inspiration for her character from the women journalists that put their lives on the line in war zones to get a story. Director Zwick comments on the strength of these women and what he sees in Connolly that communicates that in her character.

The next featurette is "Inside The Siege Of Freetown" which runs for 10 minutes 29 seconds. This is a look at the filming of the siege that portrays an actual event which saw the murder of many people. This behind-the-scenes look takes us through the preparation and safety enforced during the production as well as the shooting of the intense violence and action scenes. We get an overall understanding of what it's like creating chaos in a controlled environment. The filmmakers spend a large amount of time preparing for the shoot in order to get everything right and maintain order while on location in Mozambique.

Following those features is "Focus Point" a high-definition exclusive series of short featurettes that run a total of 46 minutes 4 seconds and can be viewed individually or with a 'Play All' option. There are a total of 23 short featurettes, these clips were created for a picture-in-picture commentary for the HD-DVD edition, but since Blu-ray's interactive components were not ready at the time of release these clips were simply ported over into the disc and viewers can watch them as a standard feature rather than an in-movie experience. These clips are basically a series of production diaries that take viewers into the shooting of the film covering a vast array of topics from the film's location shoot to production design, shooting various scenes including some action scenes, and takes a look at props such as the weapons used in the film, casting and also takes a look at the film's score and the use of a children's choir among other things. These clips take us right into the production and gives viewers a first hand look at the making of the film, the only downside is that these clips are entirely too short. They include:

- "Anvil Of The Sun" runs for 1 minute 19 seconds.
- "Building The Diamond Mines" runs for 3 minutes 40 seconds.
- "Dressing The Action Extras" runs for 1 minute 47 seconds.
- "Chopper Taxi" runs for 1 minute 52 seconds.
- "World's Largest Backlot" runs for 1 minute 29 seconds.
- "Maputo, Mozambique" runs for 1 minute 52 seconds.
- "Capturing The Real Freedom" runs for 1 minute 34 seconds.
- "Building The Beach Bar" runs for 1 minute 10 seconds.
- "Blood Diamond: Child Soldiers" runs for 1 minute 51 seconds.
- "Fall Of Freetown" runs for 2 minutes 18 seconds.
- "Ruf Rave" runs for 1 minute 31 seconds.
- "Community Service" runs for 1 minute 43 seconds.
- "Dressing The Cast" runs for 2 minute 55 seconds.
- "Car Chase" runs for 1 minute 39 seconds.
- "Worst Conditions Ever" runs for 2 minutes 51 seconds.
- "Extra Casting" runs for 1 minute 30 seconds.
- "Weapons" runs for 2 minutes.
- "International Impact" runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Environmental Crew" runs for 1 minute 21 seconds.
- "Attacking The Mines" runs for 3 minutes 10 seconds.
- "Casting DIA" runs for 2 minutes 20 seconds.
- "That's A Wrap" runs for 1 minute 36 seconds.
- "James Newton Howard And The African Children's Choir" runs for 1 minute 55 seconds.

music video entitled "Shine On 'Em" performed by Nas follows that and runs for 2 minutes 46 seconds.

Finally on this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 57 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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