Lord of War
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Andrew Niccol
with Nicolas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, Ian Holm, Eamonn Walker, Jean-Pierre Nshanian, Shake Toukhmanian, Sammi Rotibi, Eugene Lazarev, Tony Kgoroge, Donald Sutherland
release US 16.Sep.05,
UK 14.Oct.05
05/US 2h01

Conflict resolution: Cage and Leto

moynahan hawke holm

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Lord of War The creator of The Truman Show and Gattaca inventively tackles another big issue with this black comedy about arms dealers. The story and characters are vivid and compelling, although the film is far too dense for its own good.

Yuri Orlov (Cage) is a Ukrainian-born American who with his brother (Leto) slips into gunrunning in the 1970s, moves into the big time in the sex-and-drugs-fuelled 80s, and finds his roots useful in the post-Soviet 90s. Supplying all sides in any conflict, he makes powerful friends, surpasses his main competitor (Holm), is dogged by a tenacious Interpol agent (Hawke), pursues a supermodel (Moynahan) and maintains a wry distance from the mayhem he's feeding. But can he hold it in balance?

Niccol writes and directs with intelligence and originality. Every scene is packed with astute commentary, which draws us into this unthinkable world and keeps us both hooked and horrified. But Cage's constant sardonic voiceovers and the steady rapid-fire dialog make it feel extremely talky. And it begins to overstate its case, which is extremely wearing. After the brilliantly elegant opening sequence, in which we travel the life of a bullet, everything else feels rather obvious.

So it's a good thing this is such a sure-handed film. The actors beautifully underplay their characters. Cage is perfect for this kind of role, dryly escorting us on a tour through his business with that twitchy poker face of his. He knows every law and loophole, and that the death trade extends to the top of the world's governments, all of whom convince themselves that "it's not our fight."

The way the film jets from conflict to skirmish over the past 35 years is breathtaking. Images and situations linger in the mind long after the film ends, as the weapons make their way from decaying superpowers into the hands of the most vulnerable in the Third World. There's a real sense that the natural order won't sustain this much longer. It's a complex, funny, intriguing film that carries an essential message. With a bit more subtlety (think Mamet's Wag the Dog) it could have been a masterpiece.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 5.Sep.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Lord of War Jamie Garwood, net: "I like Niccol as a writer but for me this film felt flat and deliberate in its very obvious screenplay. Or maybe i just don't like Nic Cage, whose voiceover is so unapologetic for his character's obvious bad deeds, and the performance is charm-free; although the scenes between him and Hawke are good. I felt the film could have been better if it wanted to be." (18.Oct.05)

Michelle, London: 4/5 "Excellent opening! Very innovative. On the flip side, thought the plane stopping just before it hit the baby was super cheesy - typical Hollywood! However, the film draws you in and makes for good watching, even if it is a little long winded. I enjoyed it but thought that if I was watching this at home I could have speeded through quite a few laborious parts. Excellent performances from Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke." (19.Oct.05)

2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall