Leonardo DiCaprio has become one of the premiere American actors. With a set of natural instincts that lends a non-showy, believable quality to all of his performances, versatility, and movie star size charisma that fills up the screen and emotionally hooks the viewer into his character and story, it is hard to think of another male American actor (with the exception of Johnny Depp) who is consistently giving an audience its money worth; these two gentleman have taken the reins from Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, as those two Oscar-winning future legends of the silver screen gracefully age into more mature roles.
In Blood Diamond, it is Mr. DiCaprio's performance that raises this film above it's standard Hollywood fare of a script (although it is a solid script) into something memorable. His performance here as an opportunistic diamond smuggler equals that of the one he gave earlier in the fall as "Billy Costigan" in The Departed, although the two characters couldn't be more different from each other. It may be his best performance yet, and in terms of sheer charisma and memorability it certainly rivals his mega-star making performance as "Jack Dawson" in Titanic.
I liked Blood Diamond a great deal, but do not think it is a great film. A good movie? Yes. Very mainstream and formulaic, but it is raised up quite a bit by DiCaprio's character and his terrific realization of it. If I had read this script beforehand, I never would have thought of Leo for this role- possibly George Clooney or some other star known for "roguish charm," but not Leo. But now, having seen it, I can't imagine anybody else as "Danny Archer;" it is a fully realized, winning performance.
Mr. Hounsou was wonderful as well, and I liked the chemistry between the two men in their scenes together. He was able to make the audience feel the gamut of emotions his character experiences during the course of the movie- pride and hope, fear, outrage, resignation, mistrust, desperation, and determination, and beautifully rises above the somewhat limiting way his role was written.
I thought Ms. Connelly did as good a job as possible in her role as "the idealistic journalist who wants to make a difference." Her part was just a larger version of Joaquin Phoenix's in Hotel Rwanda. As always, I find she brings a certain dignity and intelligence to her performances and does not allow her incredible beauty to overshadow her acting. I thought she and Leo worked wonderfully together, as well, and along with Mr. Hounsou they make an engaging trio you can't help rooting for.
In comparing it to other recent films about Africa, I didn't think this was quite as good as as Hotel Rwanda, but better than The Interpreter, The Constant Gardener, and The Last King of Scotland. I felt an emotional engagement with the characters I didn't experience in the latter three films. I found the script allowed my care for the characters to grow as the story progressed, and was not overly manipulative. At times it veered too much into standard action movie territory, with much violence and many "close calls" but would then be brought back into the realm of compelling human drama by a wonderfully acted, intimate scene.
After reading some early negative comments, I was pleasantly surprised at my response to it. Compelling characters and the skillful use of a truly gripping global issue as the plot line make this a satisfying viewing experience- one that I would happily see again.