Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005

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Lord of War (R)
by Amy Diaz

Nicholas Cage plays a man with a talent for amorality and gun-running in the junky-fun Lord of War.

Until the late 20s/early 30s set in, many a liberal-arts-educated, under-challenged person believes, in a vague, half-hearted way, that he can still grow up, go to law school and have the productive, successful, perhaps even morally-uplifting career every teacher always told him he should have. Many of these people are not particularly interested in the law but see the lawyer route as a capper to their indecisive youths that is smart, responsible and gives a lot of early lousy decision-making some ultimate purpose.

Replace “law school” with “international political satire” and “indecisive youth” for “lazy storytelling” and you’ll get a sense of how the tale of Yuri Orlov (Cage) plays out. Orlov grows up an immigrant in Brooklyn, headed for a life of restaurant ownership and pervasive disappointment. But early on he has a run-in with a mob shooting and gets an idea: guns. Forget about making money on the crime itself, the real cash is in providing the weaponry. He quickly figures out that selling guns to local hoodlums offers very little profit margin and the real money to be made is overseas, primarily selling first world guns to the third world.

Thus Yuri truly comes into his own when the Soviet Union falls and he is able to sell the huge stores of Cold War weapons, primarily to African customers. The money rolls in, enough to fund his lavish Manhattan apartment and to take care of his former-model wife (Bridget Moynahan). But Yuri’s got troubles — his brother and occasional partner Vitaly (Jared Leto) can’t not see the suffering his products cause and a straight-arrow Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) is obsessed with holding Yuri accountable for his crimes.

Lord of War has a point — ultimately it’s that the United States and its fellow superpower-ish nations do far more dirty dealings in the Third World than an independent contractor like Yuri ever could. This is not a blindly brilliant or original point but blinding brilliance and originality isn’t exactly the point of this movie. Cage standing on a deck of a run-down smuggler’s ship wearing a natty suit and looking like a cross between a CIA agent and an insurance salesman (which, if you think about it, he is), that’s the point of this movie. Cage has a talent for unspooling hard truths and unpleasant facts of life and doing so with enough devilish charm that we want to listen. 

Maybe he can’t sell the lines, maybe he’s always Nicholas Cage playing a part and never Yuri Orlov attempting to ignore morality but luckily believability isn’t necessary for the movie to work on the smarty-pants-action level that it does