Movie Review
Lord of War
Lord of War poster
By Scott Sycamore     Published September 20, 2005
US Release: September 16, 2005

Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Nicolas Cage , Ethan Hawke , Jared Leto , Bridget Moynahan

Running Time: 122 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $24,127,895
We've seen this kind of movie before, but what makes Lord stand out is its commentary on modern geopolitical realities.
These days, a movie with content about real issues is hard to find. When you do find it, refreshment ensues; some actual worthy hours are being spent at that hellhole of a theater. For all the time, money, and effort expended on most movies, it's amazing how seldom filmmakers can actually put something interesting on screen. Well, Andrew Niccol has decided to clamp down and put a halt to this runaway train of filmic emptiness; as writer-director of this flick, he has crafted a keen slice of entertainment with a relevant message.

I was reminded of Scarface (A) and Goodfellas (A) during this one, which speaks very highly about the quality of the storytelling. This is basically a gangster rise-and-fall movie, but on an international level. Nicolas Cage plays Ukranian Yuri Orlov, who starts selling Uzis to local hoods because he can't forsee working in his parents? dingy New York restaurant forever. He finds that he's incredibly good at this type of crime and wants to parlay his skills into a vastly profitable private weapons empire. Surely enough, he does, and in the process he becomes buddy-buddy with heinous dictators and corrupt military men. Then the moral quandaries enter in, and the slickly fun story becomes something more murky and troubling. It?s a fairly predictable arc, but done with such competence and confidence that it shines nonetheless.

We've seen this kind of movie before, but what makes Lord stand out is its commentary on modern geopolitical realities. It's hardly a surprise that, in this post-9/11 era, filmmakers want to speak a lot more on war, terrorism, and politics (see such fare as Sam Mendes' upcoming Jarhead for further reference). Niccol has plenty to say about the havoc wreaked on a global scale by calculating businessmen. Particularly wrenching are the scenes set in the African nation of Liberia; to call it a 'hellhole' would be a massive understatement. I felt like I was peering directly into the Third World during these segments, and it got to me. And what's even more distressing is when you realize that such nations are this way because they are held in misery and slavery by ultra-corrupt leaders. The evil president here is Andre Baptiste, played by ?Oz? veteran Eamonn Walker with a pitch-perfect mix of charm and brutality that seems to be so common to the world's 'strongmen.'

The set pieces really make this movie soar. From the opening 'life of a bullet' sequences to the time-lapse dismantling of an entire freight airplane by African villagers, the cinematic techniques are first-rate. Niccol's aesthetic is gangster-genre-oriented, yet packs imagination in just the right areas to propel the movie to a higher level of hypnotic thoughtfulness. This movie is a little overlong, but it's not boring, and that alone sets it apart from most current offerings.

The contents of this movie induce pleasure and revulsion, and I think a lot of people won't get it. On one hand, there's the slick and enjoyable story of a shady businessman's rise to the top, replete with humor, glamour, and hokey voice-over. On the flip side, there's the squalor of the poor countries, the immorality of the whole enterprise, and just a general lack of hope that comes through. In all honesty, who can blame Niccol for being pessimistic? We are all locked in a worldwide struggle, partially created by exactly the kind of deals struck by men like Yuri. This is not the kind of tale in which things get solved; such resolution would require nothing less than world peace.
Scott's Grade: B
Scott's Overall Grading: 417 graded movies
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'Lord of War' Articles
  • Craig's review A
    September 18, 2005    This is one of the most fascinating movies of the year. -- Craig Younkin