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Lord of War
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"or 'High Wire: The Motion Picture'"
4 stars

As the opening credits of Andrew Niccol’s “Lord of War” unspool, we are treated to a rapid-fire montage showing us the entire life span of a single bullet from its beginnings on an anonymous mechanical assembly line to its ending in the skull of an equally anonymous person. In a way, this sequence serves as a pretty good harbinger of the film to come–both are alternately informative, horrifying and blackly funny and come to conclusions that still manage to pack a wallop despite being essentially pre-ordained.

Like “Blow,” which chronicled the explosion of the cocaine industry in the 1970's, “Lord of War” is a rags-to-riches story in which the hero achieves the American dream of a big house, gorgeous babes and tons of cash at the expense of the misery of countless victims of the product that he unhesitatingly sells with the enthusiasm and energy of a used-car dealer. The product this time is weapons–make that lots of weapons–and the “hero” is Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a Ukrainian immigrant who wants more than a life working in his parents restaurant in the Little Odessa section of New York would seem to promise. Almost by accident, he finds himself selling a couple of guns to some local thugs and discovers that he has a knack for it. Before too long, he begins to expand his business across the globe and since there is always some skirmish or other going on and since Yuri has no compunctions about who he sells to (with one exception, though to say who would ruin one of the funniest lines), business is always booming (at one point, he has so many weapons to sell that he begins dealing them by the kilogram.) For a while, Yuri enlists younger brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) to assist him but he isn’t as capable of seeing it as just as business and starts drowning his guilt in drugs.

When the Soviet Union collapses in 1991, Yuri is able to exploit that, thanks to a distant relative in the Russian military, in order to get his hands on an incalculable number of guns, tanks, missiles and other armaments that were built (and largely unused) during the Cold War. Now one of the biggest gun-runners in the world, Yuri begins to attract the attention of dedicated Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), who is desperate to throw him in jail; although outraged by the way that he exploits loopholes in UN trade agreements to sell more weapons, Valentine is too personally dedicated to law and order to bend the rules to bring the obviously guilty Yuri in. The stockpile also attracts the attentions of the violent dictator of Liberia (Eamonn Walker), who is eager to do business in order to quell any possible uprisings from those he is oppressing. (His son, on the other hand, just wants a gun “like the kind that Rambo had”). When things become too dangerous, Yuri makes a half-hearted attempt to stop dealing arms in order to make things right with his long-suffering wife (Bridget Monyahan). That lasts just until the dictator literally arrives on his doorstep with a deal too big to refuse and which leads to a wildly unpredictable (except maybe to Yuri) chain of events.

In order for a film like “Lord of War” to work, it needs to show the seductive nature of the business of arms dealing as well as the darker and more horrifying aspects–otherwise, it simply becomes a one-sided screed that plays only to the converted. As the story hops from one hot spot to another, the film does a good job of conjuring up the kinetic high that can be had from being in a line of work in which the participants get as much of a rush from flouting the rules of society as they get from any common monetary gain. Two of the best sequences show Yuri thinking and acting fast on his feet to avoid capture from the eternally pursuing Valentine. In one, Yuri employs an ingenious method of disguising the identity of the freighter he is using in order to avoid detection. In the other, he faces a seemingly impossible situation (he has crash-landed a plane filled with illegal arms in a remote area of Sierra Leone with the authorities closing in) and comes with a tragically simple and effective manner of disposing of his cargo. Those who think that such scenes (not to mention the creepy-fascinating bit in which Yuri drowns his own sorrows by snorting a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder) are fantastical extrapolations in the manner of his scripts for “Gattaca,” “The Truman Show” and “Simone” will be interested to learn that they have all been inspired by real-life incidents that Niccol uncovered while researching his script.

The other thing that the film requires is a lead performance from an actor who is able to make the character of Yuri come off as compelling and interesting without ever minimizing his actions or his appallingly blase outlook. Nicolas Cage is one of the actors capable of playing a captivating-yet-unapologetic asshole and his work here is one of the best performances that he has turned in for a while. It is a fiendishly complicated role that requires him to appear on-screen for virtually the entire running time and bounce from giddiness to complacency to a weary resignation about the world and his place in it and he deftly shifts from one to another with an almost frightening ease. And even when he gets the occasional line of dialogue that is a little too on-the-nose for its own good (as when he describes an AK-47 as being so simple that “even a child could use it), he delivers it with just enough finesse to make it sound like the sort of thing that his character actually would say in that situation. (His very presence also lends an extra layer of irony to the film since he has made more than his share of blockbuster movies that have unthinkingly glamorized high-powered gunplay to such degrees that people like Yuri will always have a market for their wares.)

“Lord of War” isn’t a perfect film–the entire subplot involving Bridget Moynahan as Yuri’s longtime-crush-turned-suspicious-wife is a dead-end that distracts from the proceedings without adding anything but a couple of uncommonly predictable scenes in which she is shocked to discover her husband’s real line of work–and there are elements (such as the final scenes involving Yuri’s brother) that don’t quite come off as well as Niccol clearly hoped they would. However, this is a brave, funny and angry film that takes an issue that could have easily been depicted in black-and-white terms and treats it, and the audience, with a degree of respect and intelligence that is refreshing and it concludes on a refreshingly downbeat note that avoids drowning in sheer cynicism. At one point during the film, a character remarks that the illicit arms trade will always be around because “the ones that know don’t care and the ones that care don’t know.” By the time we see Cage at the end, standing in a sea of spent casings and describing himself as “a necessary evil,” we know and, hopefully, we care.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13093&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/15/05 23:56:23
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User Comments

7/07/10 mr.mike Could have been better. 3 stars
8/07/08 Discerning Patron Interesting visuals, but contrived. Ending has a clearly leftist political bent. 1 stars
6/06/08 MIchael Navarro Any nay-sayer shouldb ashamed of him/herself! 5 stars
11/22/07 Phil M. Aficionado Slick. Script not as good at the narration. 4 stars
5/28/07 hemant an excellent movie 5 stars
2/23/07 dmitry One of Cage's better performances 3 stars
11/04/06 A Concerned Citizen One of those movies that tells a plot you know, but, in an entirely unexpected way. 4 stars
7/16/06 JenDenmark Another cliche ending...anyone else tired of those? 2 stars
4/14/06 Steve Newman Best film of 2006 so far - Awesome Apr 06 5 stars
3/20/06 Ryan Decent acting, well scripted, but fails to engage you. 3 stars
3/17/06 MP Bartley Stylish and funny. Sags in the middle, but mostly great, surprisingly cynical stuff. 4 stars
3/05/06 Indrid Cold Great idea to address such a dour subject with plenty of style and humor. 4 stars
3/03/06 Simon Simply because it provoked discussion with me; otherwise flawed, excessive, over-fantastic. 4 stars
2/21/06 mwildema I rented this to kill time, became time well spent. 5 stars
2/19/06 Tanya excellent movie very true to life 5 stars
2/18/06 Abdul cage at his best! no one better could have played the role of uri irlov better... 5 stars
2/15/06 Bottlebigal A total waste of time and money. You won't expect such crap from Cage's movie. 1 stars
2/06/06 Mary Milan One on Nicolas Cage's great ones 5 stars
1/30/06 WiseMan Not What I had expected due to the Previews, Though it was One Incredible Eye opener. 5 stars
12/13/05 Corinne I kept waiting for the movie to start. It never did 1 stars
11/24/05 Agent Sands Less like Layer Cake, more like The Long Good Friday. 4 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Very flawed and contrived plot. Interesting tidbits. Great performance from Cage. 3 stars
11/18/05 Jimmy Kustes Not for everyone but Cage has had two great movies in 2005 5 stars
10/16/05 Philip Buckley-Mellor Really liked this film, especially how it doesn't draw too many conclusions. 4 stars
9/21/05 vagile Not flawless but a truly great film. 5 stars
9/21/05 Bentable worth a watch 4 stars
9/21/05 jcjs wow, wow, wow 5 stars
9/19/05 KingNeutron At times funny, but definitely thought-provoking. 4 stars
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  16-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 17-Jan-2006



Directed by
  Andrew Niccol

Written by
  Andrew Niccol

  Nicolas Cage
  Jared Leto
  Bridget Moynahan
  Ethan Hawke
  Eamonn Walker
  Ian Holm

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