Take a Drink: for curiously specific music ques (Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” in the scene where they snort cocaine for instance)
Take a Drink: for Jared Leto overacting
Do a Shot: for prophetic (and unintentional) foreshadowing to the current Ukrainian crisis
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is a true entrepreneur, a salesman of incredible ability who has made a name for himself in his business, which happens to be the global illegal arms trade. Early on, he enlists the help of his brother, but his brother’s penchant for excess soon puts him back in business alone.
Yuri soon finds himself a supermodel wife, and feels compelled to pay to give her the best advantages, so he expands his business ever further, using his connections to become bigger and more dangerous, even earning the occasional business of “legitimate” governments, when these governments would rather not have their activities known (including an American Officer named “Oliver Southern”, which of course bears no resemblance to any real-life figures).
Director Andrew Niccol is often accused of heavy-handedness in his approach to filmmaking. His movies often exploit a very simple concept with visual flourish and style. Lord of War manages to convey a rather complex issue without feeling overly-exploitative, taking advantage of Niccol’s keen eye for detail to make the anti-war message clear and concise. Most notable is the opening sequence in which a single bullet’s life is charged from manufacture to bloody use, set ironically to the sounds of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”.
The result of these stylistic choices is a film so thought-provoking that Amnesty International endorsed it, and created an educator’s guide as a companion to the movie.
Nicolas Cage is an actor whose career decisions have often been driven less by artistic choices, and more to satisfy the bills of his creditors. In some recent films, it is even obvious by his performance that he really just doesn’t want to be there…
Cage still always makes sure to save his energy for the films he cares about, and in Lord of War, he delivers one of his career-best performances as Ukrainian-American arms dealer Yuri Orlov. Orlov’s character was cobbled together from a list of multiple real life gun-runners, and the film follows his exploits as he moves from back-room deals to large-scale black market operations. Orlov’s immigrant parents define the ideals of the American dream; by contrast, Orlov embodies the kind of pure-capitalistic pursuit so often confused for the American Dream. Orlov accepts all the hypocrisies that come with making a fast profit, in that he is willing to sell to anyone, regardless of political stance or moral reasoning. War is a business…
In a movie which relishes the extremes, Jared Leto’s character Vitaly (Yuri’s Brother) is played to the bones in a harsh and over-the-top role which never fully works. It feels too much like a parody of the nepotism gone wrong clichés so prevalent in crime cinema. This is partially the blame of the script, which pushes the limits of believability quite intentionally, and also the blame of Leto, who seems like he’s trying to one-up Nicolas Cage in eccentricity. Leto’s a solidly talented performer, but the gamble he takes here is a losing one.
There are a few other minor missteps, such as a couple all-too obvious music ques, and a handful of moments which ply the viewer with sentimentality, in a film that should be defying the audience with cold reality. But for the most part, these complaints are minor, and easily forgivable.
Lord of War uses its stark honesty and solid core performance by star Nicolas Cage to make a memorable statement about the global arms-trade, while also managing to be a compelling piece of entertainment. It’s a rare “message” movie that satisfies both of these goals.