Writer/director Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War is a very memorable film, even if it fails to be brilliant. The central character, arms dealer Yuri Orlov (Nicholas Cage) is one of the most confronting creations I’ve seen in recent years. Sometimes gleefully amoral and other times simply blinkered, his skewed take on the world – its violence, and his role in it – has to be seen to be believed. Here is a man who strides through war zones from country to country quite happily selling guns to anyone who wants them. The film masterfully manages to be confrontational yet at the same time uncontroversial. While there’s no doubt where the filmmaker’s morals lie (and where he feels the audience’s should), the narrative makes one distinctly uncomfortable as we watch Yuri’s career go from success to success.
It is the conflict of interest that makes the film so interesting. Orlov claims to be a pacifist (and is, at least in the immediate sense), and he hates the idea of killing, yet he hoots with joy at the fall of USSR, seeing it as one big closing down sale, with ex-Soviet arms going at bargain basement prices. It’s astounding to watch him go through such a career with almost no doubts or reservations.
The much lauded opening shot is fine, though I found it rather disappointing that it relied so heavily on CGI. The film spans quite a long period of time, yet neither Yuri nor his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) seem to age, which is a bit frustrating, especially so soon after Brokeback Mountain, where characters Ennis and Jack also seemed to have found the fountain of eternal youth. Nicholas Cage is fantastic, and it’s good to see him in a challenging role again, especially after no-brainer National Treasure. Jared Leto and Bridget Moynahan both perform roles they’ve done before, and keep an ear out for a voice-only cameo by Donald Sutherland. Ethan Hawke (Assault on Precinct 13) is very convincing as the Interpol agent who refuses to break the rules to bust Yuri, while Ian Holm (Garden State) fails to shine in a small yet significant role.
The ‘based on actual events’ element and the final title cards seemed rather out of place in Lord of War, and actually detracted from the overall experience. As a piece of fiction it does raise issues with real world repercussions, and the film certainly made me think.Rating: