TV Preview: Neely Tucker on ABC's Two-Part Movie 'Diamonds'

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sarah Cameron is a U.S. senator's daughter who's an overeager, naive member of a geology expedition looking for diamonds in the fabled heart of Africa.

Men with guns and uniforms pull up to her diamond mine in Congo. Sarah prances off to chat.

As often happens when naivete meets paramilitaries . . . well, let's say dear Sarah has an extra hole in her head by the time the opening credits on "Diamonds," an ABC two-part movie debuting tomorrow, have scarcely finished rolling.

The following four hours, a tale first aired on Canadian television last year, seek to give us a multinational perspective on the glam and gore of the diamond industry. The former would be champagne and caviar and leggy models. The latter would be the "blood diamond" trade in carats extracted from African war zones, with warlords and thugs (i.e., men with scowls and sunglasses) pocketing the profits.

This is a promising idea. It was also the promising idea behind "Blood Diamond," a so-so Hollywood outing three years ago.

If you stick around until the end credits of "Diamonds," you'll likely peg it as more soap opera than drama, but a pretty good soap opera at that. The problem here is not with the film's ambition, or its mostly excellent cast, or its authentic look (it was filmed in South Africa and Canada). It's that it has so many characters, and so few of them are interesting or even likable, that it seems almost deliberately off-putting. The script is a lump of coal that never gets polished into something that dazzles.

One of the rules of filmdom is that there's hell to pay when an American politician's blond-haired child is killed in a foreign country, and "Diamonds" is a story that follows movie rules. So off goes the senator, Sarah's grieving mom (Judy Davis), to Congo with so much righteous outrage that she probably had to pay extra to get all of it on the plane. Going in the other direction is Stephanie (Joanne Kelly), the geologist of the ill-fated expedition, who runs away to a Canadian exploration to dig dirt and possibly strike it rich. There's also child soldier Sheku (Mbongeni Nhlapo) making a diamond run into Liberia.

But wait! There's more!

There's the ostentatiously wealthy Denmont Corp. in South Africa, with patriarch Piers Denmont (Derek Jacobi) trying to fend off a takeover bid from his biped reptile of a son, Lucas (James Purefoy). There's the beautiful Luna Koroma (Louise Rose), a London model who is picked to be the new face of the "Denmont diamond." And her parents were from Sierra Leone! The dark heart of the blood diamond trade! The irony!

Natch, she falls in love and in bed with Lucas in about two minutes.

Have we mentioned the Russians? The African mercenaries? The Liberian president? The politics between the French and American delegations to Congo? The Arab diamond trader in Liberia? The Jewish diamond executive in South Africa?

There's too much going on here and, even at four hours, not enough time to track all those story lines. No one character really develops much; they're pretty much what you see at first glance and they tend to say things you'd expect them to say. Still, "Diamonds" is handsomely shot, and it tries to get at a shadowy business that is notoriously difficult to infiltrate and expose. The world is far more interconnected than we sometimes believe, and tracing the trade in any material from its beginnings in raw poverty to its consumption in grand wealth can't help but have appeal.

Will lovely Luna stay with Lucas and his ill-gotten riches? Will the ambitious Stephanie get out of her dangerous Canadian expedition in time? Will little Sheku escape the rebel army? Will grieving Sen. Cameron find out who killed her daughter and why? Will crusty old Piers Denmont save the family company?

"Diamonds" will give you the answers, but it won't surprise you in the process.

Diamonds (Part 1, two hours) airs tomorrow tonight at 9 on Channel 7. Part 2 (two hours) airs Tuesday at 9.

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