Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bobby/Blood Diamond

I go to the movies for different reasons, and different things happen each time. That is the beauty and wonder of art. If you view music, poetry, literature, and film as expressions of art rather than mere forms of entertainment, you can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the world, of your own environment, and of yourself and those around you. When you gain that appreciation, these are the times when art speaks to your soul, when it achieves something great. I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but I’m a person who likes to think and to feel. When you do anything that makes you really think, or really feel, I think that is a wonderful thing, and that is one of the many aspects of art that I love. I saw two movies this weekend (Bobby and Blood Diamond) that made me think and made me feel something. Let’s look at Bobby first.

It’s hard to believe that the life and assassination of Robert F. Kennedy hasn’t been tackled yet, but I think actor and director Emilio Estevez (Judgment Night, The Breakfast Club) is the first to take on the task in Bobby. The movie is as much about Kennedy’s effect on the American public as it is about the actual man. Bobby is told through the eyes of the occupants of The Ambassador Hotel, where RFK was shot in 1968.

Estevez has assembled an impressive ensemble cast, including Martin Sheen (The Departed), Demi Moore (Ghost), Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets), Nick Cannon (Drumline), Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls), Christian Slater (Murder in the First), and Joy Bryant (The Skeleton Key), among others. You get the idea – there’s a gang of people in this movie. The people are not important; what resonates so deeply from Bobby is the powerful effect RFK had on American citizens from all walks of life. People just don’t feel that way about politicians nowadays. I’m looking at the movie and I’m struck by how much people LOVED this man. Estevez interspersed the movie with actual footage of RFK, and there is no denying that the man was absolutely adored and that he had a good heart and a good soul. During a tumultuous time for our country, he offered some semblance of hope for the future, and not in that cheesy bullshit way we see now, but like he really gave a damn. I’m not trying to sip the Kennedy kool-aid, I’m just trying to convey to you what the movie conveyed to me. The man next to me in the theater was crying, and when the closing credits rolled over a Kennedy montage – no one got up to leave. That means that this man had more than just a passing effect on people. There has always been something sad and tragic about not knowing what might have been. That is the legacy of RFK: untapped potential, untold possibilities. He was a truly good man who was snuffed out during a time when the country seemed to be going crazy in a perfect storm of tragedy: the assassinations of JFK, MLK, the Vietnam War, etc. Bobby uses its ensemble cast of characters to convey this turbulent and desperate time.

The movie is not without its flaws, as the script is plodding in places and the dialogue borders on sappy. The transition between scenes and characters was less than smooth, a flaw which was magnified by the intersecting storylines and characters. Many scenes felt choppy and disjointed. All of these flaws were erased in the electrifying final 30 minutes of the film, which depict the actual assassination and its chaotic aftermath. Here the ensemble cast shines in its delivery of collective pain, suffering, comfort, and finally: despair. Emilio Estevez’ Bobby is ambitious and deeply meaningful in its portrait of a fallen paragon of hope, taken too soon as the great ones always seem to be.

Blood Diamond

Now, let’s take a look at Blood Diamond, starring Djimon Honsou (The Island), Leonard DiCaprio (The Departed), and Jennifer Connelly. This film was truly amazing. It tells the haunting story of a man named Solomon Vandy, forced to mine for diamonds. He has been literally torn from his family by rebels who use the diamonds to finance a civil war in Sierra Leone. They have kidnapped his son and forced him into combat. Rebels, the African government, and large diamond retailers are all in bed with one another for the sake of profit, and the consequences are shockingly savage. Enter DiCaprio as Danny Archer, an opportunistic smuggler. Solomon knows the location of a 15-carat pink diamond which he has hidden in hopes of bartering for the safe reunion of his family. Archer, who must deliver diamonds to his “employer,” needs the gem to stay alive. Now the two are in a race to recover the diamond without being killed in the process, becoming reluctant and unlikely allies. DiCaprio and Honsou turn in brilliant performances, and their scenes are truly captivating. DiCaprio’s role is layered and complex, as his character shows vulnerable humanity one minute, and callous viciousness the next.

Blood Diamond is a movie which cannot be done justice by mere words. Before I can describe the movie any further, let me pose a question or two. What is human suffering? What does it mean to feel pain? I’m sure we all have our personal answers and thoughts. Perhaps it is the death of a loved one, like a spouse, child, or parent. Perhaps it is surviving a crime, or a debilitating illness. All of these answers are valid, and who am I to question the things that make another person suffer? I say all that to say this: Blood Diamond made me rethink my concept of pain and suffering. I sit in my little corner of the world with no idea about the shit that happens on planet Earth. Blood Diamond isn’t just a movie; it is a fictionalized portrayal of REAL events. The characters are subjected to unspeakable horrors, all in the name of the almighty dollar. It raises questions about human nature and the forces that drive us all. For Archer, it is greed. For Solomon, it is the unconditional love of a father for his child. Blood Diamond is not a pretty movie, it is the type of movie that serves as a mirror --- hold it up and you might not like the face staring back at you.

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