Lord of War

2006-04-30 13:16


Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is a Ukrainian immigrant in 1980s New York who realises there is more money in guns than waitering. He and his younger brother, Vitaly (Jared Leto), begin supplying weapons to despots and criminals. Business is good, but dangerous. Yuri has to keep one step ahead of Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm), a rival arms dealer, and Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), a principled Interpol agent.

Unlike Yuri, Vitaly is not a natural arms dealer and ends up in rehab for a cocaine addiction. Alone, Yuri sets out to seduce and marry the woman of his dreams, model Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan).

When the USSR collapses, Yuri's business booms. His Uncle Dimitri, a Ukrainian army general, gives him access to massive Soviet weapons stockpiles, which Yuri sells to war-torn African countries. But there are many pitfalls and fierce competition in this market, and Yuri starts to lose control over the life he has so carefully constructed.


There is a scene in Lord of War where Nicolas Cage's character, arms dealer Yuri Orlov, is standing on a bed of ammunition shells that literally covers an entire block (striking cinematography by Amir Mokri). It is so strangely beautiful and surreal, that even a pacifist will admire the artistry. And there is plenty to admire in what can best be described as a satirical action-filled comedy-drama. The fact that Lord of War does not fit neatly into any genre is not surprising considering the writer and director is Andrew Niccol, who also wrote The Truman Show, The Terminal and Gattaca (which he also directed). As in his previous work, Niccol has crafted a powerful story and social commentary around a central protagonist - Yuri Orlov, brilliantly portrayed by an on-form Nicolas Cage.

Yuri Orlov is a morally ambiguous but rather likeable character. He has never killed anyone and doesn't even keep a gun in his house. He is the ultimate pragmatist, justifying what he does with an "If I didn't sell weapons, someone else would" approach. He is not so much immoral as amoral. As narrator, Yuri blithely remarks, "I've sold guns to every army but the Salvation Army." Such dark witticisms and wry observations are the bread and butter of this painfully funny film.

But not everyone is as comfortable with Yuri's career as he is. His wife, Ava (the luminous Bridget Moynahan), enjoys having a wealthy husband and sumptuous home, but even she is not happy to live on the proceeds of "blood money". And despite Yuri's keen eye for detail, he never realises why his brother Vitaly (a perfectly anguished Jared Leto) keeps using drugs. Vitaly cannot shield himself from his conscience and is plagued by the harm that their weapons have done to the world.

One of Yuri's best customers is the Charles Taylor-esque Andre Baptiste (an excellent Eammon Walker), a brutal Liberian warlord. Indeed, some might say that Africa is negatively depicted in Lord of War, but that's not really the case. If anything, this film shows the brutality and chaos that bloodthirsty despots can wreak on their countries, regardless of where they are.

Since large parts of the film were shot in and around Cape Town, it's great fun to spot the different locations. Yuri is making a deal on the South American coast and... wait a second - that's Hout Bay harbour! Yuri and Ava are on a beach in St. Barts, France, which looks a lot like Clifton. And who knew that Liberia resembled the Swartland so closely?

One of the reasons for extensive shooting in South Africa was a tight budget. Although Lord of War is hardly political, its factual portrayal of America's involvement in arms dealing makes it controversial, and therefore difficult to finance. Much of the film is based on actual events and even the tanks used in one shot belonged to a Czech arms dealer. But Lord of War does not indict or criticise any specific nation for its arms dealings, it simply restates a well-publicised fact - that the world's biggest arms dealers are America, Britain, Russia, France and China.

This matter-of-fact approach to its subject matter, underpinned by a perfectly balanced juxtaposition of humour and pathos, makes Lord of War a truly powerful and extraordinary film. It offers a fascinating insight into, and satire on, a subject that is highly relevant in our conflict-ridden world, but is very rarely addressed in such an interesting and stylish way. Although the biting satire could be too much for sensitive souls (like when the recoil action of an assault rifle becomes the 'ka-ching' of a cash register), Lord of War is thoroughly entertaining and will keep you enthralled for every second. After all, it's a story about the life of a gunrunner. And there aren't many careers more exciting than that.

- Amanda Whitehouse

Nicolas Cage stars a smooth talking wheeler-dealer in this black-as-night comedy about the illegal arms trade.

Boris 2005/12/10 11:46 AM
Spoils of war Alistair, I really enjoyed your review. Top notch. Keep 'em coming.
M.J.RICHARDSON 2005/12/12 4:58 PM
Lord of war Brutal and a hard dose of the reality of todays gun runners. Most of all, for once, a no holds barred representation of the type of corruption and decay in Africa since the colonials were encuraged to leave. Showing clearly how some African states have regressed back into an autocratic state and slowly destroy the advances the colonials tried to install. Abosolutly recomend for the serious vewer.
Michelle 2007/09/08 1:29 PM
Lord of War its a cool movie i realy liked it exept when Vitaly(Jared Leto) had ... with that woman
sylvester 2008/03/12 5:46 PM
lord of war it depicts in reality the notion that people worship money and will go to any lenghth to justify the way its generated.illegal trade of guns even if u havent shot anyone is as good as murder.the movie shows as long as we have power house countries any law will be by passed on the expense of innocent lives in africa
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.