(Yeah, I promised this would be up yesterday. Anyone willing to come to Evanston and help me bake 10 batches of cookies before Friday has freedom to complain).

Previously: Mel Gibson disappointed me with the degree to which Apocalypto wasn't batshit insane.

It takes approximately no searching whatsoever to find the conventional wisdom that Blood Diamond is an archliberal film. Balls. Blood Diamond, like every other Edward Zwick-directed film I've seen, is very "politically correct," which is not inherently the same thing as "liberal" at all. Blood Diamond is liberal only in the sense that it has the bravery to say that widespread bloodshed and civil war in Africa are very bad things.

(Of course, that is pretty much a leftist position in America these days, isn't it? Fucking neocons).

Like so very many films from the sublime to the unwatchable, Blood Diamond is really about white guilt. If I had to sum up the theme of the film in one sentence, it would be something like this: "Thank God those silly Africans have brave white Westerners to save them from themselves." Zwick and company would probably phrase it a little bit differently: "White people buy diamonds. Diamonds bad for black people. Grr white people! Yay white people who save black people!" I do not wish to give them credit for being too articulate.

The plot: Leonardo DiCaprio gets to trot out an admittedly a really good South African accent as Danny Archer, a vicious diamond smuggler helping to finance unspeakable violence in Sierra Leone in 1999. A series of believable coincidences bring him into contact with Solomon (Djimon Hounsou), a prison camp escapee who has secreted a fabulously large pink diamond on a riverbank, and Danny tricks, cajoles, threatens and bargains his way into a partnership to go on a diamond quest. Along the way, Danny consistently knows infinitely more about everything than Solomon, and scenes such as the following play out:
"'Not that way, Uncle Tom,β€”not that way,' said he, briskly, as Uncle Tom laboriously brought up the tail of his g the wrong side out; 'that makes a q, you see.'

'La sakes, now, does it?' said Uncle Tom, looking with a respectful, admiring air, as his young teacher flourishingly scrawled q's and g's innumerable for his edification; and then, taking the pencil in his big, heavy fingers, he patiently recommenced."

I'm sorry, I was thinking of something else. What I meant to say is that Danny is the planner; it is Solomon who always causes trouble by being impatient and reckless. Danny thinks: Solomon is the muscle, at one point near the end literally bellowing with inarticulate rage.

Along their journey, Danny and Solomon are joined by the noble white journalist Maddy Bowen and her cleavage (played by Jennifer Connelly and Jennifer Connelly's Cleavage, and if you think I'm being sexist for arguing that Conelly's rack is a separate character, I'd recommend that you watch the film and get back to me). Maddy and Danny have several arguments about the proper behavior of white smugglers on a black continent, and generally treat Solomon like he's the pet dog that Maddy knew, just knew that Danny wouldn't really be willing to take care of, and now who has take him on walkies? If Danny isn't using his street smarts and military connections to get Solomon out of a jam, then Maddy's using her journalist friends and understanding of the UN bureaucracy. I need hardly mention that Danny and Maddy fall in luuuuv, and Danny is eventually cured of his venal smuggling ways, because this is That Kind of Movie.

If this is liberal, than I would really hate to see what racism looks like.

Funny though, how I was just able to watch and mostly enjoy a film by a notorious Jew-hater, and this well-intentioned film is bringing the hate. Do I expect more from Zwick than Gibson? Maybe. But "the whites must save the blacks" is racist, pure and simple.

Now, I fear any practice, however slight, that ends in judging works of art based on their ideological purity. That road ultimately leads to mental fascism: first we call that piece "bad" because we disagree with it, then we seek to prevent the creation of wrongthinking art, then we seek to prevent the wrongthinking itself, and eventually Andrei Tarkovsky starves to death in prison.* Anyway, saying "that is bad" because one disagrees with it is a hallmark of the Right, and I'd be sad indeed to see the Left pick up any of their bad habits.

So it's a bit of a relief that Blood Diamond is still a pretty crappy movie, and I can still harsh on it.

I think it wants to be an adventure film on the Gunga Din or King Solomon's Mines model, and given that neither one of those are precisely anti-racist, that might go a long way to explain the film's problems. But neither one of those are polemics, either, and that's where Blood Diamond falls apart even on the level of mere popcorn entertainment: every ten minutes the characters stop and address the audience with a very important message about how the diamond industry thrives on the exploitation of Africa. To say that it kills the film's momentum is an understatement.

(Hopefully, no one will think that my problem with the film is the idea of conflict diamonds per se. On the contrary, I remember when this became a major international issue five years ago, and I support any and all diamond boycotts. But five years ago is a long time, and I now question the film's need to exist; even my mother, usually my go-to person on not knowing what's going on with the world, was aware that the diamond industry lives on the blood of Africans.

I hope that one of the consequences of retaking the Congress is that we liberals don't feel the need to make so many arch and unpersuasive docudramas about politics).

This constant preachiness isn't necessarily Zwick's fault, I suspect: the last screenplay by writer Charles Leavitt was the execrable K-PAX, so I suppose that I can only criticise the director for doing what he always does: having no clue how to film actors or their cleavage.

Despite all this, the film does a couple of things right. Zwick is a great visual artist. Even when his films are poorly written and flatly staged (which is to say, in all cases), they are beautiful, and it helps very much in the case of Blood Diamond that his cinematographer is an outright genius, Eduardo Serra. A lovelier picture-postcard version of Africa you've never seen (and yes, the film is about Africa-as-Hell, but the cinematography is the only thing that doesn't pound you over the head with that, and I'm grateful).

The other thing - the BIG thing - is Leonardo DiCaprio. I am simply at a loss to remember the last time I saw him give such an arresting performance. His career renaissance, I think, is complete - this might well be the best work he's ever done as the venal, conflicted, romantic, idealistic, father-worshipping, fatalistic Danny Archer ("venal" was the only one of those in the script. That's how good the performance is). Indeed, so perfect is this actor in this role that one can almost find it in themselves to be grateful that Danny is the lead character, and that Blood Diamond explores his arc, not the plight of suffering Africans.

But no, not while Zwick is such a smug asshole. How the hell did this get on the NBR Top 10, exactly?

5/10