It’s funny how characters become more interesting when they are self-interested. A man of flawless character is a stick-in-the-mud, as is Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) a simple village fisherman who seeks to reunite his family in a war-torn Sierra Leone in 1999. His means to that end is an unprincipled diamond smuggler, a man of unwavering determination (if a shaky accent) played by Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio’s character is a white African who wants nothing more than to get out of the quagmire that is The Middle East Africa. Or so he says. His ticket out is the large pink diamond that Vandy has managed to liberate from a mine where he was enslaved by rebel forces.

The backdrop of the civil war is brilliant when it stays backdrop. Like foil setting off the facets of a diamond, the movie makes its social points much better when they are not brought to the foreground. Unfortunately, every movie about white people in Africa seems to need a courageous journalist who is only trying to do her part to show the true suffering of the third world at the hands of the wealthy West (Jennifer Connelly). Connelly’s character only becomes interesting herself when her motivations switch from incredible nobility to a selfish drive to get the story (and DiCaprio’s untamable iconoclastic man at the center of it). Now that’s a believable journalist.

I wish the Solomon character had been a more typical tribal father. He could’ve still loved his family and wished to reunite with them. Unfortunately, Hounsou (In America, Gladiator, Amistad) seems to have been typecast as a saint. He is a fine actor, and here does yeoman’s work with a number of melodramatic monologues. But his character is too plot-perfect to be believable: at times too stupid; others too worldweary.

While Blood Diamond is at least 45 minutes too long at 2 1/2 hours, it never gets bogged down for any great amount of time. There are numerous ripping (if confusing) action sequences, and the dialogue scenes that aren’t quoting statistics about refugees have a nice pop to them. I don’t think it will be nominated for anything, but one never knows.

And if one doesn’t know about conflict diamonds, one certainly will after this film. I just think there should be a moratorium on text after a movie is over. If the information didn’t fit in the movie, there’s probably a reason. People who leave the theater wanting to know the facts is a good thing. Maybe they will look into it themselves and effect some change. Although I’m not too sure this movie offers hope for such change.

At one point, Solomon asks why ‘his people’ massacre each other over diamonds. He muses that maybe things were better under the white people. After the carnage that has come before this speech, can you blame him? An affirmation of apartheid is the last thing this conscious-raising project wanted to be. But like director Zwick’s Last Samurai, an unintended undercurrent of white superiority runs like a mineral vein through the substrate. Rather than mining it for post-colonial irony, Blood Diamond would like us to believe that there are teachers creating jungle utopias to deprogram child soldiers. For all I know, there may be a few. But to what end?

As I write, a genocide is occurring in Darfur, an impoverished, oil-rich African region. The world does nothing. If the world did intervene, would that be a re-institution of colonialism? Does the Iraq example prove that Democracy cannot be forcibly imposed? Human history seems despairingly like one big war punctuated by interregna of peace. Would wars end if people, white and black, diamond companies and movie makers, stopped profiting from them? A consummation devoutly to be wished. An expectation swiftly to be dashed.