Dir: Edward Zwick. US. 2006. 138mins.

A well-written, well-acted and provocative politicalaction thriller, Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond provokes its audience into thinking about the impactof diamond lust on the Third World. But itsrelentlessly realistic depiction of contemporary African warfare - and the waydiamond smuggling funds it - is so horrific that it could be hard-pushed to beregarded as broad Friday night multiplex entertainment, despite featuringLeonardo DiCaprio.

Zwick has crafted several classily producedbig-star movies about conflict past and present, such as The Last Samurai (2003, $457m globally), although that starred TomCruise and valued visual opulence above strong narrative. For better commercialcomparisons, look towards Zwick's The Siege (1998, about domesticterrorism, $116m worldwide) and Courage Under Fire (1996, about the first Iraq War, $100worldwide), as well as Ridley Scott's BlackHawk Down (2001, $173m worldwide), another contemporary African warfaremovie.

Blood Diamond could rival returns for Scott's feature, especially givenDiCaprio's renewed profile following the recent The Departed. Broad upscale audiencesmay respond if the first major Hollywood productionto address the diamond trade's dirty side draws enough related news coverage. Certainlyit will outpace lower-budget, less action-orientated features that have coveredgenocide in Africa, such as Hotel Rwanda(2004, which took $23.5m of its $33.6m worldwide gross from the US)and The Last King OfScotland (2006), which are more character studies than adventure yarns.

Rolling out inthe USon Dec 8, Blood Diamond is released inmajor international markets - where films starring DiCapriousually take the balance of their box-office - in January and early February.

The film opens inSierra Leonein 1999, during a brutal civil war in which thuggish rebels lop off the hands ofchildren as a terror tactic. Roguish Danny Archer (DiCaprio)sneaks rebel-mined diamonds out of the country into Liberia,then on to a diamond company in Londonthat stores them in a vault so as to control the market. Streetwise andworld-weary, Archer knows the dangers of his trade all too well: in America diamonds mean blingbling, but in Africathey only cause bling bang.

Captured in the SierraLeonese capital Freetownand jailed, Archer overhears that fellow inmate Solomon Vandy(Hounsou) is hiding a huge, pinkish diamond hediscovered while forced to work for the rebels.

On release the twomen form a reluctant alliance to locate the stone, Archer for its potential profit,Solomon in order to secure the release of his family from a refugee camp.Meanwhile, a muckraking journalist/photographer (Connelly) attaches herself tothe pair and develops a relationship with Danny.

Edward Zwick studied Sorious Samura's documentary CryFreetown - about the conflict in Sierra Leone - before he began shooting Blood Diamond and the grim depiction ofviolence evidenced here is shatteringly, exhaustingly naturalistic.

During the battle/slaughterscenes rockets are fired at low-level close-range targets with frighteningresults. The rebels, including their child soldiers, cruise around in vehicleslike stoned-out zombies, fitted out with bizarre costumes, blaring radios andguns.

In the past Hollywood has been accused of romanticising the Third World in its portrayals of life - but it issomething that Zwick has studiously avoided here. CertainlyBlood Diamond has more narrativecomplexity and character development than the likes of Black Hawk Down, especially in how it expresses its politicalideas. Yet the violence occurs so frequently and reliably that it eventuallystarts to acquire a rhythmic intensity not dissimilar to Ridley Scott'sfeature.

Leonardo DiCaprio, in his second fine performance this year after The Departed, is all stubble andbelievable southern African accent. He carries Blood Diamond as a sly, treacherous, even furiously dangerous, amoralman who slowly grows a conscience. At the same time his character is fullyformed enough to be calm, reflective, noble andflirtatiously charming when called for. Such charm is especially on display inhis relationship with Jennifer Connelly, with who DiCaprioshows good chemistry, although her part is relatively one-dimensional in itsdefinition.

With his shavenhead and deep-voiced gravity, Djimon Hounsou acquits himself well - he may be an outside shotfor supporting actor awards consideration - but Charles Leavitt'sotherwise-astute screenplay sometimes renders him too noble for hiscircumstances. Elsewhere Michael Sheen - Tony Blair in The Queen - has an amusing cameo as the London diamond rep.

Photography - thefilm was mainly shot in Mozambique- is fast paced, as if the camera is darting around to avoid being blown up. CinematographerEduardo Serra contrasts the ramshackle, squalidcrowdedness of urban areas with the beautiful vistas and horizons of theforested countryside, while a dusty refugee camp resembles a prison colony onthe moon.

The drama isunderscored by James Newton Howard's inspiring and mournful score, which mixesorchestral music with African choral voices.

Warner Bros Pictures
Bedford Falls Productions
Initial Entertainment Group
Spring Creek Productions
Virtual Studios

Warner Bros Pictures

Len Amato
Benjamin Waisbren

Paula Weinstein
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Graham King
Gillian Gorfil
Kevin De La Noy

Charles Leavitt
From a story by: Charles Leavitt and C Gaby Mitchell

Steven Rosenblum

Production design
Dan Weil

James NewtonHoward

Main cast
Leonardo DiCaprio
Jennifer Connelly
Djimon Hounsou
Michael Sheen
Arnold Vosloo
Basil Wallace