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Lord of War Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/16/2005

I hate it when a movie gets preachy.  That is the main reason why I’m not giving this otherwise excellent film Lord of War my perfect rating.

After a really cool opening sequence showing the manufacture of a bullet, we are introduced to Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage.)  He is a Russian immigrant whose family moved from the Ukraine to Brighton Beach and took on a Jewish identity (they do this because they needed to in order to move to and stay in America safely.)  His father, Anatoly (Jean-Pierre Nshanian), takes the cover identity a little too seriously, making his Catholic wife Irina (Shake Toukhmanian) a little upset with him.  Yuri’s family runs a small kosher restaurant called The Crimean Restaurant, which is run by him, his folks, and his younger brother Vitali (Jared Leto.)  Both Yuri and Vitali want to do something else though, other than running the restaurant.  One day in Little Odessa in 1982, Yuri witnesses a botched gang assassination, and he becomes inspired to sell guns afterwards.  He starts out small, selling guns to neighborhood thugs in a camcorder case, but soon realizes that the real money is made in selling weapons to anyone and everyone with the means necessary.  This includes the leaders of a few Third World countries (Yuri says that he never sold to Osama bin Laden…not out of loyalty, but rather because his checks tended to bounce.)  He brings Vitali (Jared Leto) into the fold, and soon the two become very rich.  Yuri wants to be as successful as renowned arms dealer Simeon Weisz (Sir Ian Holm), but Weisz thinks that Yuri is an amateur with no morals (Yuri’s philosophy is to stay out of the personal business, since his only job is to provide the product, not be concerned about the cause.)  Yuri has an opponent in Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) though.  Jack is trying to bust Yuri with his goods, but Yuri always manages to be one step ahead of him, including hiding the guns under a shipment of potatoes and giving away the weapons to local villagers one time when he needed to get rid of them.  Both Yuri and Vitali snort coke (usually to celebrate a successful arms deal), but Vitali’s coke habit eventually spirals out of control, landing him in rehab.  Yuri does find a wife though, but he has to trick her into meeting him.  He sets up a fake modeling job offer in St. Barts for model turned aspiring actress Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan), a woman he has been in love with for some time.  They grew up in the same neighborhood, but he had never met her in person until the fake job.  He charms her with his affluence, and they eventually marry and have a son named Nicolai (Jack Niccol.)  The Soviet Union falls, meaning that it is the end of the Cold War, and Yuri is ecstatic.  He can now get his hands on a huge supply of now decommissioned Soviet munitions, and he does so by buying them from a corrupt former Soviet officer named Dmitri (Eugene Lazarev), who also happens to be Yuri’s uncle.  Yuri becomes even more successful after that.  Soon he is arming people like Liberian dictator Andre Baptiste Senior (Eamonn Walker), who calls Yuri the “lord of war” (his version of the word “warlord”), and his adult son Andre Baptiste Junior (Sammi Rotibi), who touts a golden Uzi and constantly requests the gun of Rambo.  The life of a gunrunner isn’t exactly a safe or happy one, and eventually Yuri’s lifestyle catches up to him.

This is the third film for writer/director Andrew Niccol.  His first movie was 1997’s Gattaca, which other critics loved, but I found it boring.  His second movie was the 2002 Al Pacino sci-fi drama S1m0ne, which I never saw (I do remember that it was critically trashed though.)  Third time’s a charm for me, because I thought the movie was great.  Even though the movie is a drama, it sometimes feels like a comedy.  It has a lot of gunplay and dramatic moments, but Niccol’s script is full of wit.

That might be because of Cage’s performance.  He is one of those great actors who can transition from comedy to drama at the drop of a hat.  His timing is impeccable.  I personally think that he was robbed of an Oscar nomination for 2003’s Matchstick Men.  He also has great chemistry with Leto and Moynahan, the latter of which has continued to prove that a model can really act.  Hawke has finally gained my respect now.  Movies like Gattaca and 1999’s equally boring Snow Falling on Cedars made me doubt his abilities, but ever since he got the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 2001’s Training Day, I’ve started to warm up to him.  This movie and Assault on Precinct 13 from earlier this year just confirms it.  I just wish that he had more screen time here though.

If it weren’t for the very end of the movie, I would have given it a perfect rating.  I don’t want to spoil the end of the movie or the fates of the characters, but after the main story is completed, they begin to talk about how the US government is the biggest supplier of guns throughout the world…much more than Yuri’s character had ever sold (the movie is supposedly based on true events.)  I just don’t like being lectured to about politics when I’m trying to be entertained.

Aside from the morality guilt trip the movie lays out in the end, Lord of War is highly entertaining.  If the movie is successful and keeps up the buzz, I could see some Oscar nominations gunning for Cage and Niccol.


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