The story takes place in 1999 Sierra Leone, when the country is embroiled in a civil war. In this struggle, it's hard to determine which side is worse: the government or the rebels. As is often the case in this sort of bloodbath, atrocities abound and it's the innocent farmers and villagers caught in between who pay the price. Diamonds, one of the country's largest exportable commodities, are being smuggled out and purchased on the open market despite a supposed international ban on the purchase of so-called "conflict diamonds" or "blood diamonds." This historical background (which is more complicated as presented in the movie) is accurate, although the three primary characters embroiled in events are fictional.
Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a loving husband and father who lives a peaceful existence on a farm in an out-of-the-way community in Sierra Leone. He sends his young son, Dia (Caruso Kuypers), to a school to learn English so the boy will grow up to have a better life. One day, terror comes to Solomon's village when the rebels arrive and kill or capture nearly everyone living there. Solomon's family is ripped from him and he is sent to work harvesting diamonds. While sifting through sand from a shallow river bottom, he discovers a 100-karat pink diamond, which he initially hides then later buries. Shortly thereafter, he is captured during a government raid and sent to jail. While there, he encounters South African "soldier of fortune" Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), who makes a deal with Solomon: for the diamond, he will help the man find his wife and children. To achieve this aim, Archer goes for help to American journalist Maddy Brown (Jennifer Connelly), whose price for aid is a tell-all expose from Archer about how "dirty" diamonds are laundered to appear clean to the world market, and how much culpability the London diamond merchants have.