Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Lord of War\r\nStarring Nicolas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, and Jared Leto. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. Rated R.
Tired Arms

Nicolas Cage guns up the \r\nworks in the smart but gloomy\r\nLord of War.


The socially conscious thriller Lord of War begins in an arresting fashion. Nicolas Cage, wearing a business suit and standing in a war-ruined village on a ground that’s covered with spent shell casings, informs us briskly that there are enough firearms in the world to arm one out of every 12 people on earth. “The question, then,” he says, “is how do we arm the other 11?” The movie then launches into a scintillating opening-credit sequence that follows the journey of a single bullet, from the moment it’s stamped out by a machine in an Eastern European factory to the moment it’s fired in an African jungle and penetrates the skull of a boy who’s engaged in a gun battle.

Very good, but unfortunately, that’s as good as the movie gets. Cage plays a man who calls himself Yuri Orlov, though he quickly states that it’s not his real name. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, he seeks a way out of his dead-end existence in Brooklyn’s Little Odessa in the 1970s by selling illegal munitions all over the world. About hawking his wares in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, he says, “I never sold guns to Osama bin Laden. Back then, he was always bouncing checks.” The movie details his life’s work to the present day, which puts him in the path of a host of latter-day stereotypes: disgruntled Soviet military officers, corrupt Chinese border guards, hotheaded Colombian drug dealers, and a Liberian dictator (Eamonn Walker) with a psychotic son (Sammi Rotibi).

Writer-director Andrew Niccol turns the character into the object lesson in a rather heavy-handed morality tale, as Yuri’s credo of selling guns to the highest bidder regardless of the buyer’s intentions earns him serious money but winds up costing him his willfully ignorant supermodel wife (Bridget Moynahan) and his screwed-up little brother (Jared Leto). Niccol comes up with some snappy dialogue and nifty tricks, including a speeded-up montage of poor Africans stripping an abandoned cargo plane the way car thieves in this country might strip a car. These, however, are counterbalanced by his unsubtle use of dramatic irony: When Yuri’s uncle and arms supplier (Eugene Lazarev) exults “I’m the luckiest man alive!” just before turning the ignition of his new car, you know exactly what will happen. Cage’s performance is like the rest of the film, occasionally crackling with energy but too often glum when it should be serious. The actor deserves some credit for making no attempt to try on a Slavic accent or act older despite the story’s timespan.

The movie gives some valuable insight into the global nature of the illegal arms trade, and its drama is sustained enough to make it watchable. Put it next to the similar The Constant Gardener, though, and you’ll find that Fernando Meirelles’ thriller has a lot more juice. Lord of War’s didacticism is effective when the movie’s in a satirical mood, but that same quality undermines the film’s attempts to write the tragedy of a soulless man. The movie ends up firing blank charges, making a lot of noise but doing little damage.

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