Cage makes arms dealer compelling in ‘Lord of War’
September 14, 2005
“Lord of War” (4 out of 5 bagels)
Nothing like a good old anti-hero film, I say. And one involving the business of international arms trade … well, could there be anyone other than Nicolas Cage for the part?
Who would have ever imagined? Cage is one of those actors who, like Johnny Depp, tends to pick characters that keep redefining themselves. “Lord of War” is not only the perfect vehicle to stretch Cage’s already impressive repertoire, but one that mixes action and political satire regarding the global arms trade. In fact, Cage treats his role as almost perplexed, fish-out-of-water, given the amount of money he is making in his illicit trade.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol makes good use of Cage’s multifaceted character, basing his story on actual events and creating in Cage his anti-hero persona. And with Cage we get that and more. He’s an interesting leading man who can behave one way, and even though you may balk at his cynical instincts and not care for the occupation he has chosen, you still find him a fascinating person. Hence the interest level remains high.
The introduction will definitely keep your interest from the onset. In fact, I haven’t seen a beginning to a movie as captivating as this since David O. Russell’s “Three Kings” (1999), which starred George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Like that film, “Lord of War” banks on the business of war to keep the cash, well, flowing. The film blends a high degree of intelligence with contemporary satire from beginning to end.
Told in a narrative format by Yuri Orlov (Cage), the movie traces his beginnings into this unique world with a dryness as to not overpower the story. The narration helps to piece the story and gets us to the scenes quicker once Yuri’s tidbits are placed in the right spots throughout. This is his American dream – albeit maybe not your average dream, but still – one of survival in a market where he has found his niche and goes with it. Think of it as “Scarface,” except rather than having a Tony Montana shooting everything up, we get a more subtle approach with Yuri, who is just as dangerous but doesn’t do the actual shooting. In fact, he is rather numb to the bigger picture, focusing instead on the next deal.
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Yuri’s rise to exotic salesman of the year first gets a boost with the assistance of his brother, Vitaly (played by Jared Leto). Where Vitaly becomes manic in an addictive way, Yuri goes the diplomatic route dressed in a suit and tie to close the deal. To complete his American dream, Yuri has a stunning wife, Avi (beautifully played by Bridget Moynahan). She’s not so full of it as Yuri is. I love when someone can justify supplying weapons of real mass destruction to poorer countries, explaining, “If I don’t, then somebody will take my place.”
Yuri’s not alone in this lucrative field. He has to contend with competitor Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm), who believes he is selling his arms to the right side, thereby justifying his career choice. All of this while Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) has been on Yuri’s trail for years.
“Lord of War” is one of those movies that is entertaining, while conveying a hidden message fed to us in a delightful manner that is both witty and smart. And trust me, after the dismal summer releases, this movie is a welcome relief.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv Comedy Club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada. He co-hosts the morning show on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.