The NRA says 'guns don't kill people, people do.' But I think that the gun helps. You know? I think it helps. I think that if you just walked around going 'Bang!' you wouldn't kill too many people would you? You'd have to be really dodgy on the heart for that to work.
— Eddie Izzard
Ladies and Gentlemen, this review has been certified as being SPOILER FREE for your reading pleasure. Thank-you.
'Lord of War' is the latest offering from Andrew Niccol, starring Nicolas Cage as the protagonist, Yuri Orlov. Yuri's story is that most classic realisation of the American Dream; a poor Ukranian immigrant escaping the oppressive Communist regime of the U.S.S.R. during the days of the Cold War and achieving fame and fortune by seeing a business opportunity that is ripe for the picking. His path takes him from having to work in his parent's restaurant to being a man of considerable power, marrying his dream girl and making a fortune along the way.
And the business opportunity? Breaking and defying every international law and convention in place in order to get weapons through to those countries and military groups that want them. He'll get you what you want, at a price you can afford, and he won't let such trifles as arms embargos stop him. He'll sell to you no matter what your cause, your religious beliefs, your political alliegance or attitude toward human rights. If you've got the money, he can do you a deal.
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 11?
— Yuri Orlov
Now, I've never been the biggest fan of Nicolas Cage. Since his Academy Award for Best Actor in 'Leaving Las Vegas', he's made a series of quite dire career choices. Most will never forgive him the travesty that was 'Con Air' (John Malkovich and John Cusack suffered a similar credibility drop thanks to that film, and Cusack was already on thin ice in my eyes because of 'Grosse Pointe Blank'. But I digress...) However, he was without a doubt born to play this role. It fits him tighter than a latex glove, with no powdering required. He *is* Yuri; a smooth-talking charmer, for whom butter wouldn't melt, who possesses the ability to sell ice to Inuits, and most importantly is able to turn a blind eye to the implications of what he does. This is a man who has no trouble sleeping at night. Cage manipulates his audience expertly; despite seeing the darkness of Yuri's business ideology, you still find yourself laughing with him and rooting for him against the obstacles in his path.
And that right there's the beauty of this film. It could so easily be preaching from a pedestal to the viewer about the evils of the arms trading game. Instead it manages to slip its message through almost subliminally, using humour and character development to gradually expose those watching to the cold hard truth of the matter: guns do kill people, and people use guns to kill people. The use of light-hearted humour to communicate a serious message has been used many times before, recent examples being 'Bowling for Columbine' and 'Fahrenheit 9/11', but this effort is all the more successful for being free of the self-satisfied smugness of Michael Moore.
Yuri's narrative is enhanced by the stories of those whose lives are interweaved with his. His younger brother, Vitaly, played by Jared Leto, is an intelligent, loyal and rather gorgeous creature who unfortunately is also one of life's fuck-ups. The interaction of the two brother's situations provide an interesting sub-plot to the film about the bonds that hold a family together, and our responsibilities in support of kin. He is the only one who knows the full truth of Yuri's fortune, and this knowledge weighs heavily upon his soul.
To everyone else, including Yuri's wife Ava, played by Bridget Moynahan, Yuri's business venture is the elephant in the livingroom. They all know enough to know that they don't want to know any more; ask no questions and he'll tell you no lies. Yuri is a loving and devoted husband and father who provides for his family all they could ever possibly want or need. His frequent business trips abroad are never explained, and when he comes home he falls back into his family's lives like he'd never been away. The hypocrisy of an arms dealer who would throw away a toy gun from his son's room only serves to highlight Yuri's ability to move between his various roles with impunity.
I would tell you to go to hell, but I think you're already there.
— Jack Valentine
Of course, every anti-hero needs a nemesis, and that is provided in the shape of Jack Valentine, played by Ethan Hawke, an Interpol agent determined to stop Yuri and bring him to justice. Valentine is an überhuman; he is dedicated to his cause, morally sound, and true of purpose. It is the mark of a combination of a sharp script, talented cast and focused directing that the audience is made to feel that it is Yuri who is deserving of our support, and to take gleeful pleasure at Valentine being outmanoeuvered at every turn.
The story is woven together well, moving from Yuri's days living in Brighton Beach to owning a penthouse apartment in Manhattan. The grim reality of Yuri's enterprise is fed to the audience gradually, so that they don't notice the bitter taste in their mouth until Niccol suddenly pours the last measure down your throat, leaving you feeling degraded and aware of all your moments of laughter in the preceeding hours. The vast majority of people will leave the cinema questioning what it means to be human, and whether we are deluding ourselves that civilisation will ever hide our evolutionary origins.
I really cannot recommend this film enough; it is thought-provoking and emotive, but is still something that can be watched in the name of entertainment. Just don't expect to not be made to look at yourself to ask what part you're playing in this curious circus called 'life'. Well, it gave my 17yr old brother pause for thought anyway. I'm still obssessing over Jared Leto.
Running time: 122 minutes
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol
an anonymous source says: re Lord of War: I have a good friend whose father is in the arms import/export industry. He has Italian, rather than russian, mafia connections, but she informs me that this film cuts so close to the bone that the entire arms industry was in shock when it was released.