Lord of War

Oh, an interesting, somewhat intelligent film! Had almost forgotten what they looked like.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Nov 2005 by Scott Morris
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Lord of War is not a film that lends itself to easy recaps, and if we're not careful it's possible to give you an entirely bum steer on what the film's really about, if you'll pardon the presumption. If you're content to deal with superficialities, Yuri Orlov (Nic Cage) gets sick scraping by in Long Island and decides to make a bit of dough-ray-me by flogging guns to thugs. Things escalate, and before long he's bulk buying and selling cast off AK-47's at such a rate he has to bring in his younger brother (Jared Leto) into the fold.

Before too long, he's overthrown the old guard of the arms trade Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm) helped in part by the dissolution of the U.S.S.R, the disillusionment of the now rarely paid Ruskie Army and an uncle with keys to the armoury. Flogging off everything between small arms and attack helicopters, primarily to African warlords such as Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker) he soon becomes A) very rich and B) very suspected by the feds. Zealous, romantically named Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) continually tries to ensnare Yuri, even putting pressure of his lovely wife Ava (Bridget Moynahan).

All of this makes for a very interesting story, and if that's the limit of what you want to take from Lord of War you should still walk away happy. Look a little deeper earlier in, or just watch the last five minutes as it's almost disappointingly laid bare, and you'll find the real story and shocking perpetrators of the arms trade and it's got precious little to do with isolated acts of gun running.

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If you're the sort of personage who'd rather miss the point entirely, there's a vast scope for point missage here which should see you in hog's heaven. It glamorises weapons! It glamorises killing! It glamorises war! It glamorises drugs! It glamorises gun running! It glamorises rich tea biscuits! Nonsense of course, there's no way to glamorise rich tea biscuits any more than their current heady status, but the rest of the charges are just as false. A lot of this seemed to come from Yuri not being some obvious caricature of pure evil, rather a businessman. Not a particularly sympathetic one at that, but I guess the sliding scale of lowest common denominator absolute morality would demand that he be shown drowning puppies in a sack and using the sack to club baby seals. Shockingly, it allows you to use any four of your brain cells to form your own opinion on his worth as a person rather than foisting one upon you. The temerity!

Aaah, Nic Cage. Of all of this generation of actors he's just about the most dependable, with the probable exception of Johnny Depp. While other guys who seemed infallible such as John Cusack wind up in studio pleasing atrocities such as Identity, Cages seems to happily wend his way along playing interesting parts. Actually, that's a completely spurious claim, as Gone in Sixty Seconds and National Treasure would attest. Still, in our never to be mistaken for humble opinion his success rate is looking pretty good, and his turn in Lord of War is in no danger of threatening that. It's a nice, layered performance of an equally layered character, and the broad brushstrokes that it may have been tempting to draw the character in are thankfully avoided. Yuri's morals are largely absent, certainly never getting in the way of profit. This is a man who " didn't sell to Osama Bin Laden. Not because of moral reasons, but because he was always bouncing checks " and thinks that "some of the most successful relationships are based on lies and deceit. Since that's where they usually end up anyway, it's a logical place to start ". Despite this, he's not a mustachio-twirling pantomime villain, loving his family deeply and besides, if he wasn't doing it someone else would, right? You are granted the privilege of making up your own mind on his justifications.

Support is able, Eamonn Walker hopefully making something of a name for himself on the back of a great turn the vicious warlord with pretense at civilisation and Leto's performance as his drug-addicted brother is certainly memorable. The real standout turn though is from Cage, due in no small part to a fabulous script from writer / director Andrew Niccol. That's probably not a name that jumps out as being noteworthy, but his track record is perhaps more consistently average defying than Cage's. With writing credits on The Truman Show and The Terminal, able entertainment both, and additional directorial duties on the annoyingly spelt but otherwise under-rated S1m0ne and the terrific Gattacca. Not a bad track record, and this slots into the upper end of it quality-wise. Along with some fantastic camerawork, the opening 'life of a bullet' tracking shot being a particular highlight, he's turned out a script that's not only reasonably thought provoking but riotously funny in places. I defy anyone not to find merit in a script with lines like "The first and most important rule of gun-running is: never get shot with your own merchandise" and "You know who's going to inherit the world? Arms dealers, because everyone else is too busy killing each other" in it. It's a sharp, barbed script that does make a few points greater than those made purely to entertain.

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We're not ones to get on any anti-Capitalist hobby horses round here, in fact I kinda like it. Yay, Capitalism! Also in fact, anti-capitalists tend to piss me off. If you've got a workable alternative political system please outline it, as all you seem to be doing thus far is producing 'ironic' or 'asinine' placards and throwing chairs through windows of McDonalds branches, which ain't going to run any countries. Which is somewhat beside the point, that being the one brought up in Lord of Warthat the biggest arms dealers not so much by a country mile as a country country are the U.S, U.K, and French governments. Of course, they'd never sell weapons to any dangerous regimes, and certainly wouldn't supply countries we'd later go to war with. Apart from Iraq. And Afghanistan. And...

It has, thanks to a combination of sloth and time constraints, been over a month between watching Lord of War and writing this. I can still remember it in detail. That this seemingly simple act of recall is impressive in a film these days speaks tragic volumes about the current state of the film industry, but we take no small joy in Lord of War being a memorable film in a year of pure fluff. There's a few minor, barely worth mentioning niggles that stop it being an obvious classic, as it beats you around the head with it's horror of wars spiel and the points regarding government sponsored arms trading is a little too obviously stated for my liking (although apparently not obviously enough for far too many critics, it seems), but these don't dull the shine too much. Lord of War is certainly one of the better films of the year by a long chalk.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Andrew Niccol
Cast list:
Nicolas Cage (Yuri Orlov)
Bridget Moynahan (Ava Fontaine)
Jared Leto (Vitaly Orlov)
Yevgeni Lazarev (Uncle Dmitri)
Ethan Hawke (Jack Valentine)
Ian Holm (Simeon Weisz)
Eamonn Walker (Andre Baptiste Sr.)