Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a great review from Capone on LORD OF WAR, the Nicolas Cage flick that Capone claims is actually damned good. I have to say I liked the trailer and that poster is unique and definitely eye-catching. I can see how Cage can get on people's nerves (and I'm not denying he hasn't been in a film that got on my nerves), but when he's great, he's great. RAISING ARIZONA specifically sticks out in my mind. This flick looks like it could be a real surprise and I'm really looking forward to it. Enjoy Capone's fairly spoiler-lite review!!
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Up until about two weeks ago, when I first saw the stunning poster for LORD OF WAR, I had no idea the film even existed. There are probably some reasons for that, none of which have to do with how good the film is. My guess is that screaming, crying, and perhaps a bit of laughter in disbelief at the things detailed in this movie will not be uncommon at showing of this movie. And it’s a film I’ll be talking and thinking about long after its scheduled release date of September 16.
Writer-director Andrew Niccol as made a career of making films that ask us to look at the world with skewed glasses. With his first effort, GATTACA, he looked at the lengths one man would go for genetic perfection. with his script for THE TRUMAN SHOW, he reduces a man’s entire life into one giant soundstage. Although the end results were not always satisfying, Niccol’s second films as director, S1m0ne, wondered how much the world cares that our idols are, literally, big phonies. His last story idea, THE TERMINAL (directed by Steven Spielberg), was not all that different than THE TRUMAN SHOW in that a man’s entire world was confined to a limited space and he was being watched almost constantly. The biggest difference, of course, being that Tom Hanks knew where he was and who was watching. The greatest revelation about Niccol’s latest writing-directing effort, LORD OF WAR, is that rather than his main character living is some sort of a fantasy world or microcosm of our own society, he is living at the dead center of the real world, an all-too-real place that sometimes resembles hell, especially if you make your living as an arms dealer.
In his first film since the abysmal NATIONAL TREASURE, Nicolas Cage gives us one of the finest roles he’s ever undertaken. Yuri Orlov, the son of Russian immigrant parents, came to America when he was just a boy at took up residence with his family in the Little Odessa neighborhood of Brooklyn. Growing up, Yuri wanted two things: money and local beauty queen Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan). Yuri was keenly aware that he needed one to get the other. Yuri recognizes the potential early in life that the Russian gangs in his neighborhood are grossly under-supplied when it comes to weapons, and decides to tap into the high-demand market of guns, in particular Uzis. Through a narration that guides us through Yuri’s adventures as a arms trader, he compares the first time he sells an Uzi to his first sexual encounter: Nobody knows what they’re doing, but it’s still highly satisfying.
While attending a gun show with his brother/partner Vitali (played by Jared Leto), Yuri meets the king of the arms dealers, Simeon Weisz (the wise and slippery Ian Holm), who treats Yuri like the amateur that he is. The two men meet several times during the course of the story but under vastly different circumstances, since the encounter inspires Yuri to think big, and within a few years he’s moving product to every war-torn corner of the globe. He does everything in his power to takes sides in any of the conflicts he’s selling into, and he makes a point to never stick around to see how the weapons are used (usually against someone weak and helpless). Yuri becomes an expert in his trade and in detaching his emotions from the business. He makes a point of saying that he never sold weapons to Osama Bin Laden during the war between Afghanistan and Russia, but quickly adds that it wasn’t on principal; it was because the guy’s checks tended to bounce. After a particularly nasty exchange with some drug lords in Colombia, Vitali embarks on a major coke binge that lands him in rehab and out of the guns business.
The big event in Yuri’s gun-running life (and the profession of arms trading) was the end of the Cold War. A combination of a pissed-off, unpaid military and stockpiles of unused guns, tanks, military helicopter, grenades, pretty much every mass destructor on the planet was just sitting in warehouses waiting to get snatched up. And it just so happens that Yuri’s uncle runs one of the compounds housing these armaments. As a result of this raid of Russian weapons, the AK-47 became the all-too-available gun of choice for terrorists worldwide.
The way Niccol guides us through Yuri’s world almost makes your mind explode. According to Niccol (who did a Q&A after the screening I attended), the character of Yuri is actually based on five different arms dealers and that every situation (the film takes us from the early 1980s to almost the present) is based on real events. How Yuri manipulates people and especially international arms embargo laws is terrifying. For most of the film, Interpol agents, headed by Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), are right behind Yuri. But even when they catch him, they never have enough to hold him for long. Yuri’s greatest gift may be his ability to anticipated those out to nab him, whether it’s the law, a competitor, or even a client.
This might be an appropriate time to mention that LORD OF WAR plays like a very dark comedy. I found myself laughing far more than I figured I would, sometimes just at the sheer genius of Orlov’s schemes and sometimes at the punch-in-the-gut revelations about the warring world that Niccol’s unveils. When one particularly cruel African military dictator (played with playful viscousness by Eamonn Walker) laughs about how he has been accused of rigging elections in his country by the U.S. government and then holds up a newspaper headline concerning the botched Florida election results of 2000, you can’t help but chuckle. Or when Yuri gets a phone call from the Middle East saying that his services will no longer be required due to an outbreak of peace. “Peace treaty? But the guns are already on the way?” he says shocked.
The stronger and more dangerous Yuri’s business gets, the more likely he is to get caught and the most he seems to push his family away. Yes, he does get the girl of his dreams, and they have a beautiful son. Vitali continues his in-and-out tours of rehab clinics and skanky women. And I’m happy to report that the scenes involving his family are just as compelling as the scenes with guns. And while Leto and Moynahan both do commendable jobs in LORD OF WAR, they aren’t in the film much. Nicolas Cage has never been better; no one could possibly be as good as he is in this film (Walker comes the closest), despite the fact that he plays his part fairly low-key.
LORD OF WAR is an unparalleled look at the the world at war over the last 20-some years, seen through the eyes of a man who allows all sides of a conflict to kill each other a little longer. It’s a condemnation of world governments that, in most cases, tolerate men like Yuri because occasionally politicians need to use his services to supply those whom they cannot supply publically. But the film also, to a degree, celebrates Yuri as a thinker and schemer. Even in handcuffs or with a bullet wound in the gut, Yuri is the one in control in the most chaotic of times. Niccol admires Yuri as much as he despises him. There’s a telling sequence in which a pair of hyenas approach Yuri in the African desert as if preparing to attack. They look at him, sniff around a bit, and walk away. When the lowest of God’s creatures won’t come near you, your life is truly shit.
As much as it pains me to say it, LORD OF WAR might be too real for the mainstream. I can’t imagine that audiences will want to face this reality. Words like “arms dealers” get tossed around in action movies quite a bit, but Yuri shows us a life that has never been exposed to the elements like this before. Niccol doesn’t lay blame on any political party, nations, or leader; he’s points the finger at each and every one of them. What might end up being the most incredible thing about LORD OF WAR is that Niccol got it made with no distributor lined up or studio backing. Lions Gate (which signed on after the film was completed) has a history of taking chances like this one (probably because it’s a Canadian company) and should be applauded for putting out such a risky work. Niccol lays before us one of the most complicated scams going on in the world and makes it clear (or at least clearer) who the players are and how they get aware with such travesties. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 may have had me contemplating a move to Canada; LORD OF WAR made me call my real estate agent about properties on Mars. This is as powerful a film as you’re likely to see this year.