Blood Diamond

The Contenders

Release: Dec. 8

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Oscar Alums: Jennifer Connelly (supporting actress, “A Beautiful Mind”), Edward Zwick (picture, “Shakespeare in Love”), Ngila Dickson (costume design, “LOTR: The Return of the King”), Ivan Sharrock (sound, “The Last Emperor”), Neil Corbould (visual effects, “Gladiator”)

John Ford’s ultimate Western, “The Searchers,” was used as a template by the “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” generation of filmmakers, and apparently it is also a fave of director Edward Zwick and screenwriter Charles Leavitt, who have fashioned one of the more seamless and intriguing updates of that classic story.

Just as John Wayne searched for a young girl (Natalie Wood) kidnapped by Native Americans (and then had to fret for at least two hours over her possible assimilation into their world), so Djimon Hounsou undergoes a similar soul-crushing trauma in “Blood Diamond,” set amid the civil war in 1990s Sierra Leone.

Kidnapped by rebels, Hounsou’s son (Caruso Kuypers) becomes a child soldier, of which there are currently 200,000 in Africa — a fact this film’s final scroll makes painfully clear.

Oscar consideration for “Blood Diamond” should be buoyed by last year’s pick, “Crash,” which signaled the Academy’s return to message films with a strong social conscience.

Also, such recent celluloid confabs as the AFI and Hollywood film festivals have given special recognition to African-based movies. On that score, however, “Blood Diamond” may find itself in tough competish with “Babel,” “Catch a Fire” and “The Last King of Scotland” for Oscar attention.

Leavitt’s transfer of Ford’s tale of loss and betrayal to Africa is so transparent it may be lost on many Academy voters but not those in the scribe department: The film’s second best shot at a nomination could well be in the original screenplay category.

Most likely nod would be for Hounsou, as supporting actor, whose turn nine years ago in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” made him only the second African thesp ever to be so honored by the Academy.

Leonardo DiCaprio, of course, headlines “Blood Diamond” as a South African diamond smuggler who gloms onto Hounsou in hopes that they can both profit from the sale of a great big pink rock. Along for the ride is Jennifer Connelly’s activist journalist, out to expose the underbelly of the diamond industry.

Academywise,DiCaprio may find himself in competition with himself for playing another violent, compromised and accent-challenged hero, in “The Departed.” So it’s no wonder there’s talk that he is being pushed in the supporting actor category for his starring role in Martin Scorsese’s cop caper.

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