Lionsgate // 2005 // 122 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // January 18th, 2006
"There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other eleven?"
For every blockbuster action film that Nicolas Cage appears in (National Treasure, Gone in Sixty Seconds), he gets to appear in some smaller scale, critically appreciated film (Adaptation., Matchstick Men). In Lord of War, written and directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), he plays an international arms dealer. Is this latest attempt by the Oscar-winning Cage another Leaving Las Vegas or a sequel to Captain Corelli's Mandolin?
In Lord of War, Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant to the United States whose family moved to New York and whose father converted to Judaism. He works in the family cafeteria with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto, Panic Room), but seems to be lacking focus in life. One day, he witnesses an event (a mob hit) that changes his life and, with the help of some Ukrainian relatives in the military, decides to start selling arms to countries and officials around the world.
Yuri lives the good life, with a model wife (played by Bridget Moynahan, I, Robot), who doesn't care to ask him how he makes his money. He also manages to carefully avoid the various attempts of capture and imprisonment by an Interpol agent named Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke, Before Sunset). When Yuri is finally confronted by his business and its effects on others, he tries to fly the straight line for a little while, but things never seem to be as easy as that.
Lord of War starts off with a pretty clever three minute introduction that could easily have come from a David Fincher or Spike Jonze film. It shows the life cycle of a bullet, from its infancy in a factory to its ultimate trip through a man's head. This is not a cheery movie, and Yuri is clearly not a sympathetic character. He views the selling of arms as a business transaction that doesn't require his personal involvement or set of values, no matter how many scenes show nine year old boys using or being the victims of gun abuse.
Cage plays Yuri as a cold person without discussing any real regret or remorse for what he's doing until 90 minutes into the film and several years into Yuri's business endeavor. Unlike George Jung in Blow and Henry Hill in Goodfellas, you don't see Yuri Orlov's slide over to the other side of the fence. It's more of an assumption. Granted, Yuri is someone without redeeming qualities and perhaps that slide from a decent guy to a bad guy isn't what we're supposed to experience. Leto's performance as Vitaly isn't too bad either, but overall, seeing two American actors with Russian surnames that don't possess any accent of note is a little disconcerting. Ian Holm (The Fifth Element) appears in a co-starring role as a rival arms dealer, but the better performance may be Eamonn Walker (Tears of the Sun), who portrays the leader of a small African country named Andre Baptiste, a somewhat unstable leader whose son wants the gun that Rambo used. He's a fairly chilling character who exposes Yuri to a little more of the world than perhaps he wanted to see.
Now, Niccol's script is full of clever quotes, one of my favorites being "After the Cold War, the AK-47 became Russia's biggest export. After that came vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists." And some people may think that the film is a little bit preachy to the anti-gun choir, but I think that's hardly the underlying tone that one gathers from the film. It's a little more of a rumination of human nature, and that nature appears to be a violent one, subconscious or otherwise.
Above all else, the version of the film that appears on this disc is apparently not in its original aspect ratio. Even though the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen looks pretty good, it's not how the originally looked in the theaters. This is unforgivable and hopefully not part of a larger process going on with big studios.
>From a structure standpoint for the film, you can see the ending coming from way back in the second act. That makes this film a little bit unfulfilling. From a consumer standpoint, this is one in a rapidly growing series of releases where there's a bargain basement barebones release, and if you really loved the movie, you're going to have to pay another $5 or $10 for the special edition later on. Fans of the film will have to wait to enjoy that improved soundtrack and extras. Enough with this price gouging!
Just on the merits of the film alone, Lord of War isn't too bad, with some clever dialogue and dark humor that make it a welcome change of pace from other recent films. The film does run a little bit long in parts, but Cage's performance is another good work from the actor. This is definitely worth putting in one's Netflix queue.
Cage and Niccol are found not guilty; their work on the film is pretty good. Lions Gate does a solid job as well, and all parties are released on their recognizance.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site