Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
protect me from those who are violent,
who plan evil things in their minds
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s,
and under their lips is the venom of vipers.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is not as likely to join in the psalmist’s prayer as might Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), but before director Edward Zwick’s film is over both will stand in great need of God’s protection. Solomon is a father, similar to Jaguar Paw in Apocalypto in that each lives peacefully in a small village that is attacked by raiders bent on enslaving them. In Solomon’s case the raiders are rebels in Sierra Leone who take him to a far off camp where he is forced to pan the waters for diamonds, which will be sold illegally in order to raise money for the rebels to purchase arms for their rebellion.
At the same time, Danny is trying to smuggle diamonds across the border for his crooked South African patron Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo). He is caught and thrown into prison where he sees Solomon in a nearby cage. The African had been swept up in a raid by government forces and brought to the prison. Danny hears Solomon’s former overseer shout at him about a diamond that he had found at the camp and hidden away. Once sprung from prison by his organization, Danny arranges for Solomon also to be released so that he can convince him to share the diamond with him in exchange for his (Danny) contacts for selling the gem. The African at first is not interested until he learns that his wife Jassie (Benu Mabhena) and daughter are interred in a refugee camp, and that his son Dia (Kagiso Kuypers) has been captured by rebels intent on turning the boy into a soldier.
The third major person in the story is Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist in pursuit of an expose of “conflict diamonds,” the gems mined by rebels and their slaves. Repelled at first by Danny and his cynical ways, she finds her feelings changing as the three of them set off on a dangerous journey to retrieve Solomon’s 100-carat gem. Each hopes to gain from the trek—Solomon the means to release his family; Danny the money from selling the gem; and Maddy specific information from Danny as to how the illegal conflict diamond works. But first they will have to cope with the murderous rebels, and the more civilized but equally dangerous Colonel Coetzee and his henchmen.
Charles Leavitt’s screenplay follows the usual arc of the long journey during which the corrupt hero is transformed, but the addition of concern over the issues of the illegal conflict diamond trade and the brutal training of boys to become child soldiers lifts the film above the level of mere adventure/action genre. The graphic violence will keep away some viewers, but for others the film will sensitize them to important issues confronting our luxury loving society. That the film is an important one is attested to by the expensive public relations campaign mounted by the diamond industry to convince us that its members all have clean hands in their purchase of diamonds.
Note that there are spoilers after Question 3.
1) How would you describe Danny Archer when we first meet him? Compare him to Rick in Casablanca or to Han Solo in Star Wars.
2) How is Solomon Vandy the symbol for strong family values? Compare him to Danny?
3) How are people like Maddy Bowen vitally important to our society? What role do journalists play in redressing the wrongs of governmental and business powers?
4) How did you feel during the sequence in which the rebels train Dia and the other boys to be child soldiers? What must this be doing to their souls? How is this shown when Solomon is finally re-united with Dia? Were you surprised that the son did not immediately respond positively to his father? What long-term effects on the boy do you foresee?
5) What might you say to the person who says, “Sometimes I wonder—will God forgive us for what we have done to each other”?
6) One of the rare moments of humor in the film occurs when a character observes that diamonds have benefited outsiders, not his own people, and he then adds (the following is a paraphrase), “Thank God we have no oil!” How has this been true for so many African nations?
7) What do you think of Danny’s transformation? How is his final act a taking up his cross, or a fulfillment of John 15:13? How are his words spoken over his cell phone to Maddy—”I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be”—true?