Diamonds are a rebel army's best friend. Specifically "conflict diamonds"—stones smuggled out of countries of war and used to purchase weapons and to fuel violence. In the late 1990s, members of several concerned organizations coined the phrase "blood diamonds" in an effort to raise public consciousness about the problem. The term is a fitting title for Edward Zwick's new action drama, a story about the discovery of one very large diamond and the shedding of a whole lot of blood.
Blood Diamond is fiction, but its setting is recent (and tragic) history. The year is 1999, and civil war is raging in the West African country of Sierra Leone. Rebel forces (the Revolutionary United Front) are systematically raiding villages, killing and maiming thousands of innocent civilians and making millions homeless. Many of the young boys whose lives are spared lose their souls, as R.U.F. leaders strip away the consciences and identities of children to turn them into ruthless soldiers. The conflict within the region is exacerbated by Western exploitation as diamonds flow out of the country (often just to be stock-piled in order to keep supply low and demand high) and arms flow in.
Djimon Hounsou (Armistad, In America, Beauty Shop) plays Solomon Vandy, a Mende fisherman trying to live a peaceful life with his wife and children in a remote area of Sierra Leone. In the opening scenes of the film, Solomon's village is brutally attacked and he is ripped from his family and forced to work for rebel forces in the diamond fields. When Solomon finds an extremely rare and valuable 100-carat diamond, he risks almost certain discovery and death in order to hide it. He is motivated not by greed but by desperation—if he can somehow leverage the stone's value, he may be able to obtain the resources he needs to find and save his family. One of the cruelest of his captors, a glowering sadist who goes by the fitting name Captain Poison, discovers Solomon burying his find. Before he can dig up the diamond (and kill Solomon) a government military raid lands both men behind bars.
Languishing in the same Freetown prison is Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) a white South African mercenary who does the dirty work for Western diamond cartels by smuggling stones into the neighboring country of Liberia. Danny catches wind of Solomon's buried treasure and knows the diamond represents financial and person freedom. As soon as he is released from prison, he bails out Solomon as well. Danny promises to help Solomon find his family if he will lead him to the diamond and split the profits from its sale, and so the two men form an uneasy alliance.
In his efforts to locate Solomon's family, Danny is forced to enlist the help of Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an idealistic (and adrenalin-addicted) American journalist who has been pressing him to provide information for her story on conflict diamonds. Eventually the trio finds Solomon's wife and daughters in a refugee camp, but the stricken father discovers with horror that his 12-year-old son has been forced to become a child soldier for the R.U.F. Although Solomon is decimated by grief, he agrees to return with Danny to rebel territory to search for his son and locate the diamond.