Monday 15 May 2017

Movie Review: Lord Of War (2005)

An exposé drama about the international arms trade, Lord Of War is a highly enjoyable romp through the business of selling the tools of death.

The son of Ukrainian refugees, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) grew up in a rough Brooklyn neighbourhood and learned from personal experience the value of guns. In the early 1980s Yuri starts his own business as a gun dealer, before teaming up with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) and quickly expanding into the international trade. Yuri becomes an expert in finding loopholes to break arms embargos, and particularly skilled in locating and reselling abandoned weapons caches around the world. His initial attempts to partner with Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm), the world's most renowned weapons dealer, are rebuffed.

Staying one step ahead of dogged and incorruptible Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), Yuri sells weapons in all the world's hotspots including Liberia where dictator André Baptiste Sr. (Eamonn Walker) becomes a favoured client. Yuri also wins the love of glamorous fashion model Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) but Vitaly falls victim to a drug addiction. The fall of the Soviet Union results in a flood of new product on the market, and Yuri uses old family connections in Ukraine to expand his business and join the ranks of elite weapons traders. Weisz now needs Yuri's help, and Valentine remains in hot pursuit.

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol and co-produced by Cage, Lord Of War is an irreverent but sharp-eyed take on the world of independent gun smuggling inspired by real world characters such as Sarkis Soghanalian, Oleg Orlov and Viktor Bout. Touching down in the rubble of some of the world's worst conflict zones, the film pokes away at the double standards of an international system that places sanctions and admonishes dictators while ensuring men like Yuri carry on with the business of supplying rifles for child soldiers.

Although the story is undoubtedly episodic and over-narrated, Niccol finds a groove in the adventures of an antihero who uses every excuse in the book to justify his profession, and has every trick at his disposal to skate past international laws. The film moves briskly and with plenty of panache, Niccol finding memorable set-pieces in places as diverse as the rubble of war-torn Beirut, on the high seas off the shores of South America, in a derelict Monrovia hotel, in Ukrainian warehouses crammed with weaponry, and most effectively on a dusty road in Africa. A forced cargo plane landing results in a real-time lesson in third world armament distribution efficiency and recycling economics.

Meanwhile back home Yuri builds a life of wealth and comfort for his family. Ava and his parents turn a blind eye to the source of all the money until the glare of the obvious becomes impossible to ignore. But just as Vitaly is addicted to cocaine, Yuri is addicted to the thrill of the weapons deal, and with no shortage to the number of buyers, sellers and dirty wars, his services are always in demand. Nicolas Cage delivers a pragmatically laid back central performance built on an advanced intellect thriving in a despicable profession, his dead eyes concealing layers of self-delusion.

Lord Of War is a gut punch to the concept of a world at peace. As the guardians of morality profit from war, killing is Yuri's business, and business is good.

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