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LORD OF WAR (2005)
This is the tale of Yuri Orlov; an apolitical gunrunner who provides arms through the "grey" market to third world warring countries in exchange for a lucrative lifestyle. With the morally licentious CIA agent Jack Valentine hot on his trails it seems only a matter of time before Orlov's ethical waywardness threatens to undermine the surface illusion of his perfect world.
Written and directed by: Andrew Niccol.
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller.
Rated: R for strong violence, drug use, language, and sexuality.
To escape the communist realm in 1970's Russia, the Orlov family assumed Jewish identities and headed to the U.S. as 'Jewish' Ukrainians where they would reside in Brighton Beach, or 'Little Odessa', New York living anything but kosher lifestyles, save for Anatoly Orlov, the Yuri (Nicolas Cage) and Vitaly (Jared Leto) Orlov's father. With Russian mobsters infiltrating Little Odessa crime was a common fact in the dark streets and alleyways. After witnessing his first homicide Yuri Orlov has the epiphany that, much like the food industry, the arms industry is a business destined for profit as it fulfills a vital need and normative pattern of human behavior, violence.
Seeking his first contact at synagogue Yuri is quickly on his way to starting a private arms business, bringing his little brother Vitaly along for the ride, despite Vitaly's initial skepticism. But far from starting with small black market transactions, Yuri aims high and begins his business in selling contraband weaponry and armory for warring countries.
Attending the Berlin Arm's Fair in 1983 Yuri attempts to make a deal with a notorious gun salesman and crooked politician, Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm). But the meeting is more than an embarrassing failure and it isn't until Yuri heads to Beirut, Lebanon in 1984 to get a break from the suicide bombing, selling of second-hand U.S. armory from abandoned war artillery storage; paying off certain military personnel in the process.
Advertising his business under the banner of 'an equal opportunity merchant of death' Yuri would cross cultural and national lines selling 'Israeli Uzi's to Muslims' and so forth. 'By the mid-80's' Yuri's weaponry was 'represented in 8 of the world's top 10 war zones'. All seems smooth sailing until agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), the moralistic arms embargo official threatens to come between Orlov and his 'grey' armory market. But when a South American arms deal gets a payoff in the form of several kilos of cocaine, it seems Vitaly's sudden penchant for the drugs may put more of a hamper on the business than Jack Valentine's initial inquiries. Meanwhile Yuri seeks solace in profitable armament deals and fantasizing about small town dream girl Eva Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) who's suddenly made it big as an international supermodel.
Through buyoffs, big lies, and more salesman code-talk the two wine and dine their way into a racy nuptial celebration; Ava still misinformed about Yuri's professional occupation. Still, several years into the relationship, after the 'dream girl turns real' and a Yuri Jr. is born, more surprises like the end of the Cold War allows Yuri the opportunity to repay his home country a little visit and make a lucrative deal with Russian official, Uncle Dmitri; let the arms bizarre begin. With Yuri's transactions at an all-time high, the smug Simeon Weisz returns to make trouble for Yuri once again as a competitor. It seems the conflicting ideologies of Weisz and Orlov begin and end with their dissenting opinions about political motivation guiding sales. With Orlov abandoning all political and national affiliations it seems Orlov the gunrunner just may be making somewhat of a bad reputation for the gunrunners, as if that was possible.
Meanwhile Jack Valentine is back on Orlov's trail, though he currently remains unable to pen down enough incriminating evidence against Orlov to put him out of business. After Orlov's Ukrainian connection winds up dead, the next big market is Africa, primarily Liberian self-declared president Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker), and his younger son Andre Baptiste Jr. (Sammi Rotibi); providing arms for his 7 year tyrannical Civil War.
Between supplying arms for Africa and making return trips to other third world warring countries Yuri manages to keep Ava in 18 K diamond earrings all the while evading Jack Valentine, until a problematic liaison in Africa. Still after a 24 hours 'incarceration', Yuri is set free only to witness the nefarious Simeon Weisz at the mercy of Andre Baptiste Sr., who puts an ironic twist to Yuri's profession by giving him a dose of his own medicine at the price of the vengeance of his uncle Dmitri.
Meanwhile Jack Valentine has finally found Yuri's vulnerability spot: Ava. Using the death of Ava's parents as ammunition for her vulnerability, Valentine begs her to help him put an end to Yuri's armament trafficking. Though Yuri intends this to be his last trip to West Africa, employing Vitaly along as a 'body guard' so to speak, it seems Ava may have complicated things more than Yuri could have possibly anticipated. Still, only the trip to West Africa will tell.
LORD OF WAR is a powerful film that stirs in a controversial narrative about the wayward lifestyle of black-market vendors, specifically firearms. Nicolas Cage is disturbingly convincing in his portrayal of the amoral Yuri Orlov who, after a lengthy ride on the dream train Orlov's world will come crashing down, disturbingly enough, at the hands of his wife, immediately after the loss of his brother' the antihero has just become the tragic character. As one critic observes, 'It's a complex role, daring the actor to play a greedy scumbag with sympathetic leanings and Cage is one of the few actors around who can pull off that treacherous character structure'. In deed the role in many respects is not too far of from that of Cage's performance in the critically acclaimed 'Matchstick Men' where, despite his questionable lifestyle and almost anti-ethical ideologies, still, there is an undeniable humanistic quality to the role that at times begs for empathy. Likewise Ethan Hawke as Jack Valentine is riveting despite the brevity of his role; still, Hawke leaves a powerful impact on the film and is integral in assisting the unveiling of the film's moralistic underpinnings.
One critic notes, the film commences, after a brief introductory narrative with the film's antihero, with a spectacular montage: the 'camera imagines the journey of a single bullet, from the factory floor to the bloodied head of a pre-teen soldier fighting in Africa, in a CG-enhanced montage that's about a perfect a directorial move one could make with this dicey material. "Lord of War" announces right from the start that it has something to say, with the inventiveness and an actual budget to back it up.' In deed the rest of the film justifies the critic's claim as brilliantly inventive, artistic, and poetic cinematography and art and set direction pave the way for a shell-shocking film that disarms, pardon the pun, audiences as quickly as it wraps them up in the wayward rollercoaster of the tragedy of the film's stoic antihero.
In LORD OF WAR visual flair abounds and the artistry is self evident even in the carnage of the thematic content: the time-lapse dissembling of the aircraft in the African desert, the bullet montage, even the powerful 'fighting scenes' and panoramic of Yuri's multiple business locales are all testament to the brilliancy of direction and cinematography backing LORD OF WARs' storyline. One might argue, as a critic observes, ' "[Lord of] War" is a customary journey from poverty to criminal opulence, but Niccol's attention to detail perks up the screenplay, and constantly strengthens the ideas that he's frantically trying to communicate'. Although here it seems that 'frantically' may be a bit of target, the film is so brilliantly calculated that Niccol's aim seems anything but frantic. Rather, through patient and painstaking efforts Niccol deliberately holds a mirror up for all the audience to see. One doesn't have to be involved in arm-trafficking to feel the sting of Niccol's ethical commentary; this is arguably, a fundamentally compelling and additional universalizing quality of the film. That it is able to find a niche in even the passive viewers says something about the power of Niccol's vision and the production thereof that is LORD OF WAR.
To sum up LORD OF WAR it seems best to note that this is a hard hitting film as much about the demise and inherently present apocalyptic state of the world as it is a call for retribution and the questioning of humanity. Bordering on satire, the film's ice-cold stoic indifference, through the eyes of Yuri, is startling and disarming, and brutally unveils the truth behind the motivation of the precarious business that is gunrunning. With today's film nearly always leaning on 'the safe side of things', Niccol's gritty vision was a welcome relief from the puppy dogs and ice cream tales of the big-budgeted blockbusters.
Perhaps the most disturbing fact about the film is that, ironically, as Niccol noted, 'life kept imitating art': on multiple occasions Niccol was forced to purchase real armory, transportation crafts, etc. that was being currently used for gun trafficking, to use as props for LORD OF WAR. To think that the cargo planes in LORD OF WAR were just weeks before flying arms to the Congo only to appear in a film that questionably bespeaks of the practice is irony at its highest aesthetics and disarming use.
Nicolas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a rogue Ukrainian apolitical gunrunner. Jared Leto plays Vitaly Orlov, Orlov's habitual drug-using little brother.
Bridget Moynahan plays Ava Fontaine, Yuri's dream-girl turned wife.
Jean-Pierre Nshanian plays Anatoly Orlov, Yuri's Jewish converted father.
Ian Holm plays Simeon Weisz, Yuri's primary competition in the armament business.
Ethan Hawke plays Jack Valentine, the CIA's most loyal arms embargo agent. Yevgeni Lazarev plays Uncle Dmitri, Ukrainian arms dealer.
Sammi Rotibi plays Andre Baptiste Jr., Andre Baptiste's cannibalistic son.
Eamonn Walker plays Andre Baptiste Sr., the self-declared Liberian dictator; LORD OF WAR.