Blood Diamond
is the feel-bad epic that director Edward Zwick has been prepping for his entire career. The logline: Africa, unglued. We are dropped into Sierra Leone, sometime in the late 90s, near the tail-end of a decade-long civil war. The situation is bad enough that a rabble of child soldiers with names like "Baby Killer" and "Commander Rambo" can march with impunity down streets that are unlit except for the hazy orange glow of a few burning cars. Various factions are engaged in a hut-to-hut struggle for power, and the screen bounces from one horrifying image to another. We see a toddler being needled with heroin and told "It will make the bullets bounce off of you." We see a beachside nightclub up and running one minute, only to become captured ground the next minute. We see brigands and warlords patrolling the roads in expensive but smashed-up vehicles, looking for other vehicles that can be roadblocked and robbed. We see ... Jennifer Connelly? Talk about a diamond in the rough.

Connelly is a fine specimen of that sentimental movie creation -- the do-gooder journalist -- who hangs around sipping beers in Western-friendly cafes and seems to have no real plan at all until she happens upon Leonardo DiCaprio, a white Zimbabwean who addresses everyone as "broo" and "my man" and makes his living helping an international diamond cartel swindle the "blecks" out of the conflict diamonds that abound in the region. He has a number of minor tricks, including false teeth for smuggling diamonds and the ability to speak a bizarre form of pidgin English to the local shopkeepers that sounds exactly like something you'd hear in a Star Wars film. Connelly quickly goes to work on the emotional center she senses in him. "Good things are done every day. Just not by you," she tells him with a smile. DiCaprio and Connelly are both pushy, in-your-face actors and the film could have worked as either a romance or a cruel, McCabe & Mrs. Miller fable, but as Zwick has proven before, directing actors ain't his strong suit.