Lord Of War

Lord Of War


Reviewed by: The Exile

Sneaking into cinemas beneath a cloak of action/adventure innocence, Lord Of War is actually a disturbingly dark satire that exposes the machinations of the global arms trade. Or, at least, that's what writer/director Andrew Niccol would like us to think he's doing; the film's reality, like its protagonist, is a great deal more slippery.

The first thing we learn about Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is that he was nurtured in illusion. A Ukrainian American whose parents won permission to leave Russia by pretending to be Jews, Yuri and his younger brother, Vitaly (a surprisingly good Jared Leto) were raised Hebrew and expected to take over their father's kosher restaurant in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach. But, after witnessing a Mob shootout, Yuri comes to the realisation that "bullets change governments a lot faster than votes", and decides on a more dangerous and more lucrative career. Soon he's selling weapons to tin-pot dictators from Lebanon to Liberia, evading capture with chutzpah, aliases and a breathtaking knowledge of international law. Morals don't even come into it; he claims that since cars and cigarettes kill more people than guns, his conscience is clear. Or so he thinks.

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Business really heats up at the end of the Cold War, when Yuri graduates from guns and grenades to tanks, missiles and fighter planes. Returning to Ukraine, he joins forces with his Uncle Dmitri (Eugene Lazarev), an army general, to abscond with $32 billion in weaponry. The next few years are a blur of activity as Yuri pursues the supermodel of his dreams (a wooden Bridget Moynihan), battles his chief competitor (Ian Holm), dances rings around a green Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) and worries about Vitaly's cocaine addiction (Vitaly has enough of a conscience for both of them, it seems). Through it all, Yuri is more worried about catching Aids from complimentary Third World hookers than catching a bullet.

Filmed in the Czech Republic, New York City and South Africa, Lord Of War is a slick black comedy, with every dollar right up there on the screen. From its spectacular opening shot, with the camera riding a bullet from manufacture to destination in the brain of a young boy, to the smoky government interrogation rooms where Yuri ends up, the movie never flags. Every scene is paced to within an inch of its life, every line of dialogue trips out as though oiled. The marvelous Iranian cinematographer Amir M Mokri (Taking Lives), gives us shiny, hard surfaces and metallic skies; nothing is soft or sentimental, not even Yuri's home, or marriage, which Mokri films as coldly as a magazine layout. You could say the entire movie is like a slice of Yuri's brain.

The brilliance of Yuri - and of Cage's flawless performance - is that everything about him is an illusion. His sang-froid, his wealth, his loving family, all are fronts for a man whose surface persona, we believe, has smothered the real man inside. The horror is that when the cracks start to open and the "real" Yuri appears we discover the only thing in the movie that may not be an illusion is his own character. Even worse, we realise it doesn't matter, as Niccol has managed something quite ingenious here: folding censure and sympathy into the same satirical package, he negates both, creating a world where all that matters is the deal itself. With jaw-dropping cynicism, he fills his soundtrack with Grace Jones's La Vie En Rose and Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth - the anthem of the Sixties peace movement.

Lord Of War is original, explosive and dense with social criticism. Niccol based his story on actual events and fashioned Yuri as a composite of several real-life arms dealers. Despite the de rigueur Hollywood moments ("Can you get me the gun of Rambo?" asks a Liberian maniac-client. "Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3?" inquires Yuri, politely), the film has a serious underbelly, even if audiences will be having too much fun to care.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2005
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The cynical dark world of an unscrupulous arms dealer.
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Read more Lord Of War reviews:

Anton Bitel ****
John Gallagher ****
Paul Allen ***1/2

Director: Andrew Niccol

Writer: Andrew Niccol

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan, Ian Holm, Eugene Lazarev, Eamonn Walker, Sammi Ratibi

Year: 2005

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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