Political Thriller a Gem
The season's most riveting, character-based movie is a politically anti-capitalist thriller called Blood Diamond. The goal-driven script by Charles Leavitt, who also wrote Peter Chelsom's tender The Mighty, is moved more by the idea that true love endures than by the picture's liberal orthodoxy.

Don't let that fool you. The danger here is realistic and it is derived from the perilous journey of two tough African characters that meet within the first 15 minutes. They are played by Djimon Hounsou, whose career ignited with a scorching Janet Jackson video, and Leonardo DiCaprio, a lanky last season addition to ABC's Growing Pains 15 years ago.

The actors, directed by Edward Zwick (Glory), are in top form here as a couple of full-grown men dodging bullets in a lawless, diamond-rich land ruled by roving gangs in 1999. They team to find a pink diamond that could change their lives.

With Leavitt's tight screenplay as a springboard, Zwick hits the right mix of action-adventure, humor and politics, neither succumbing to instant gratification nor lingering too long on those intoxicating African sunsets. The postcard pictures appear, like markers on a map, as the men make their way around the Dark Continent.

Hounsou plays a happy, hardworking husband and father who favors his bright oldest son—a child whose one look at his papa early in Blood Diamond embodies the innocence that drives Hounsou's character toward brutal acts of heroism.

Mr. DiCaprio's is the showier part, and, while the accent comes and goes and does battle with other dialects, he portrays the rootless bounty hunter to a tee. Firing up cigarettes, strutting alongside familiar sidewalk prostitutes ("no condom, no sex") and mouthing off about Rhodesia, communist Angola and other episodes of Africa's tortured recent history, he's a composite of the White Man in that exotic part of the world: adventurer, mercenary, victim.

Of course, the movie generally regards his type as a terrible capitalist tool who exploits the poor, primitive—therefore, presumably superior—African people, hence the title, by way of an American reporter played by Jennifer Connelly in the least developed main role. She slides up to Mr. DiCaprio at warp speed, to get the scoop on the diamond trade's black market financiers, batting her eyes, wearing snug V-necks and denouncing storybook weddings (it's the demand for those diamonds).

Her character's political points are flimsy, and the movie's Christian missionary morality wears very thin, but soon the focus is back on the father and the mercenary and their treacherous trek. In the movie's most heart-stopping scene, the pair navigates railroad bridges in a daring escape. In another intense moment, Mr. DiCaprio's sweaty rogue commands Hounsou's terrified villager: "stay low."

The white hunter—as comfortable with guns as he is killing a baboon with his bare hands—leading the noble black patriarch across Africa flips the stereotypes and it turns out to be an exciting, tense partnership. Their aims mingle and match; one seeks the diamond and one seeks his son and the suspense builds as their entangled missions converge along the banks of a river.

Blood Diamond has a sense of humor, too, with Mr. DiCaprio's shady character getting the biggest laugh line—timed to a pause in the steady pursuit. A one-eyed villain, mud wrestling and other formulaic plot points are a bit of a drag and Zwick doesn't know when to quit but the two-man story comes together once Mr. DiCaprio's motives come into view.

When not preaching anti-capitalism—refuted even by its own rules—Blood Diamond, busy with strong stories, swoops and thrills, is an old-fashioned adventure that really sparkles.