LORD OF WAR
**** (out of 5)
September 16, 2005
Nicolas Cage as YURI ORLOV
Bridget Moynahan as AVA FONTAINE
Jared Leto as VITALY ORLOV
Ian Holm as SIMEON WEISZ
Ethan Hawke as JACK VALENTINE
Eamonn Walker as ANDRE BAPTISTE
Sammi Rotibi as ANDRE BAPTISTE JR.
Studio: Lion’s Gate
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
As a rule, I hate being preached at during a movie. And when there’s a film that’s about some politically-charged topic, like… say… illegal arms dealing, I’m bracing myself for a sermon.
However, in Andrew Niccol’s new film “Lord of War,” there’s relatively little preaching. Oh sure, you can definitely see where the director’s coming from, but he takes a different approach to the film than others might.
Nicholas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant who becomes the world’s leading dealer in illegal arms. With no qualms about how his product is used, he sells to everyone… the Muslim extremists, the Israeli army, the Soviets, the South American freedom fighters, the warlords of Africa. As long as they pay the price, he delivers the goods.
“Lord of War” is like the movie “Blow,” only about guns instead of cocaine. It shows Orlov’s rise to power and eventual fall from grace. Cage turns in a solid low-key performance and manages to put on some charm as the scoundrel gunrunner. Governments are given a back-seat in the story in favor of how this life changes one man.
By taking a somewhat ethically relative stance in the examination of Orlov’s life, the film passively poses a whole array of questions. Yuri Orlov provides a service to people around the world. He supplies a product. Sure, that product is weapons, but there are many other products moved in a time of war.
Everyone complains that gun manufacturers’ bullets are the objects that kill. However, they seem to forget that food manufacturers feed evil armies, real estate companies provide land to house their empires, independent contractors build their mansions and the United Nations treats the most ruthless of dictators like royalty.
There still are several moments where a heavy-handed message creeps into the film. For example, Ethan Hawke delivers an overly prepared speech at one point when he has Orlov detained in the middle of the African desert. He explains that because nuclear warheads are hidden unused in silos while small arms are the means by which most people are killed in conflict, these are the “real weapons of mass destruction.”
But otherwise, the movie is allowed to play out as a character study rather than a political message about gunrunners and militarizing around the world. I also commend the filmmakers for not mixing their issues. It was have been so easy to take the politically correct shot (no pun intended) at the domestic issues of illegal guns. However, the film remains blissfully ignorant of this, showing some restraint and not confusing issues.
When all is said and done, “Lord of War” presents us with a hopeless world. War is hell, but what are you going to do about it? Even if you put the illegal gunrunners out of business, you have the major governments of the world as the largest suppliers. Sure, the U.S. is fingered in this accusation, but so are the Brits and the supposed peace-loving French.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to learn from this film. For example, it’s not a good idea to have unprotected sex with a prostitute in Sierra Leone. I’ll have to keep that in mind during my international travels.
The other thing I walked away from this film with was that I have no desire to go to Africa. As we’ve seen in other movies like “Tears of the Sun” and “The Interpreter,” this is the home to some of the most ruthless dictators in history. For the innocent people who live in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Sudan, life is a nightmare. At the very least, this film is enough to make me thank God every day that I live in the United States. Sure, I’m paying $3 a gallon for gas, but at least my family isn’t being massacred with machetes.