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Lord of War (A Movie Review)

Lord of War

LORD OF WAR (2005)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan, Ian Holm, Eammon Walker, Sammi Rotibi, Ethan Hawke, Shake Toukhmanian, Jean-Pierre Nshanian, Donald Sutherland, Liya Kabede, Jasmone Burgess, Carlin April, Gugu Zulu, Debbie Jones, Mirriam Ngomani and Eugene Lazarev.

Screenplay by Andrew Niccol.

Directed by Andrew Niccol.

Distributed by Lionsgate Films. 122 minutes. Rated R.

The anti-hero, a character who may do things that are repugnant and wrong but still happen to be charming and likable, keeps rising up in Hollywood. In movies from Bonnie and Clyde to The Godfather to Blow, there is a natural fascination to good men who choose bad professions.

In Lord of War, Nicolas Cage plays one of these men whose moral compass doesn’t quite go all the way around and who can rationalize off anything for money. He plays Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant in Brooklyn who is living a dull life in his family’s restaurant when he is a bystander at an attempted mob hit. Instead of being horrified by the violence, the entrepreneur in him is awakened when he realizes that there are many bullets and guns being used and someone must supply them.

It is a horrible business, but it is one that Yuri is amazingly facile at. He starts into it with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), however his sibling doesn’t have the stomach for the business and when a client insists on paying with drugs, Vitaly spirals into addiction.

Therefore, Yuri goes forward alone. He is seen as young, brash and unprincipled by Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm) the main trafficker on the black market. Yuri tries to work his way into Weisz’ operation, however the older dealer rebuffs the brash upstart because he sees that Yuri is just in it for the money; he would happily sell to anyone, no matter how evil or wrong. Weisz is old-fashioned in his belief that it is their responsibility to use their moral compass as well as the power of money. When communism falls in Russia, Yuri takes advantage of his contacts to become a major player.

Yuri sees nothing wrong with what he does, though. He will argue long and hard that he is not responsible for any deaths. He is not firing the arms. He is just providing a service.

Beyond being a hard businessman, Yuri is surprisingly romantic. He has been in love since childhood with Ava Fontaine, a former classmate who has gone on to be an internationally-known supermodel. Yuri nearly bankrupts himself to woo her; he hires her for a fake photo shoot, rents out an entire beach resort and an airplane all to make himself look good in her eyes. Once he has won her over, though, he has to keep making his “business deals” bigger and bigger just to keep her in the style she is used to.

He ends up dealing with a father-son pair of African dictators. Here Yuri strains to keep his head above water, Andre Batiste, Sr. is a bloodthirsty madman and his son is, if anything, even more out of control. Yuri barely escapes death in his first deal with the dictator when he exclaims with surprise when the dictator calmly shoots a military aide who annoys him. Yuri is able to use his wits, his personality and his natural salesman skills to stay alive (he disarms the angry dictator by making him laugh; he says that he has to buy the gun now, it is used.) This leads to an ever-escalating group of deals where Yuri is getting crazed African warriors all the latest in armaments. The war scenes are horrifying and yet weirdly, absurdly funny.

As he is dragged deeper and deeper into this world, his grasp on his own world starts to slip. He is being dogged by an FBI agent (Ethan Hawke) who is determined to take him down. His relationship with Ava is suffering. Yuri’s obsessive attention to details starts to fray a bit. He takes chances he never would before.

Lord of War is a twisted take on the American success story. The fact that Yuri could be any CEO just makes it even scarier. (9/05)

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: September 20, 2005.

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