By Thom Bennett
It’s been a long time since I’ve been any sort of a Nicholas Cage fan. I’ve always had a problem with him as a leading man and have generally felt that he was meant for darker or quirkier things, like “Wild at Heart” or even “Moonstruck.” “Lord of War” was a pleasant surprise, to say the least, and one of my favorite films of 2005.
“Pleasant” might be a poor choice of word, as the film follows unscrupulous arms dealer Yuri Orlov (Cage), who travels the world with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) making a dollar wherever a revolution or civil war erupts. He rises from insignificance as a Russian immigrant in Brighton Beach to become one of the biggest illegal arms dealers in the world. Man, woman, child doesn’t matter to him. How he makes his living lies in stark contrast to the lavish, insulated life he carefully creates and maintains for his wife and child without so much as a hint of remorse. He is constantly pursued by Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), who he eludes by manipulating existing loopholes in international law, carrying on with business as usual…and business is good.
Whereas most action movies rely on an empty barrage of guns and violence with no consequences, “Lord of War” is all about the cost and context of guns where they come from, where they end up and ultimately the people and places they destroy. In one particularly powerful scene, Yuri is hallucinating after taking a mix of cocaine and gunpowder that the warlords give to children soldiers before they send them off to die. A young girl walks up to him, her arm having been blown off, and asks him if her arm will grow back.
Director Andrew Niccol’s remarkable attention to detail creates a film with a style and subject matter that seem almost ill at ease with one another and somehow make the film that much more effective. The opening sequence is seen from the point of view of a bullet and shows the journey from manufacturing to the point where it is used to kill a child.
The special edition DVD comes with the requisite making-of and commentary however, there is a very interesting short documentary called “Making a Killing: Inside the International Arms Trade,” which helps put the subject matter at hand into context. Entertaining and ultimately insightful, “Lord of War” is something of an anti-action movie action movie and an overlooked gem from last year.
“Lord of War: Special Edition” is currently available from Lions Gate Home Video.