Up in Arms
Morality takes a back seat in Lord of War, an intense and often satiric drama about an illegal arms dealer who sells weapons to anyone who can afford them. “I’ve done business with every army but the Salvation Army,” the globe-trotting salesman boasts. “Without operations like mine it would be impossible for certain countries to conduct a respectable war.”
Like many self-made men, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) has managed to overcome poverty as well as his family’s immigration status. He's become a successful businessman -- and he's very, very good at being a merchant of death. Because of his ability to con himself as well as others, he’s a virtuoso at rationalizing any ethical concerns about what he’s doing. "I'm only helping people defend themselves," Yuri insists.
Cage (National Treasure), in his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas, gives Yuri a cynical veneer with tiny cracks visible only during moments of deep reflection. Clad in a dark suit and tie, Yuri looks like any salesman making his rounds -- whether he’s secretly hawking his wares with powerful Americans and Europeans or out in the open with the vicious dictator of Liberia (Eamonn Walker). Smooth and cunning, he stays one step ahead of the relentless Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) who’s trying to catch him.
Even family members are not safe from Yuri’s charms. He involves his cocaine-addicted brother (Jared Leto) in his dangerous activities, lies to his wife (Bridget Moynahan) about his job, and persuades an uncle to help him steal massive amounts of weapons after the break-up of the Soviet Union. But, strangely enough, Yuri can’t bring himself to use a gun. Could he actually have a conscience? Because of Cage’s compelling portrayal, we can't help hoping that’s the case.
Like American Psycho, another film about a man losing his soul to materialism and self-centeredness, Lord of War, offers an unflinching portrait of someone who needs to have his ethics examined. “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation,” Yuri declares. “That’s one for every 12 people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?”
The most frightening thing about this movie is that it’s based on true events. Written and brilliantly directed by Andrew Niccol (S1mone), it opened my eyes to the probably hopeless problem of international arms dealing.
Although not easy to watch because of its disturbing subject matter, Lord of War features intriguing cinematography throughout. Of special note: the opening credits showing a bullet zooming to its target. The film’s diverse location shots also add to its visual fascination. And, thankfully, Cage’s narration contains flashes of droll humor that help this nasty medicine go down.
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated “R” for strong violence, drug use, language and sexuality.)