The Barenaked Archives – Lord of War

Lord of War posterFrom 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Swinging from a movie like Just Like Heaven to one like Lord of War is disconcerting, disturbing, and depressing. You go from a perfectly happy little comedy that says all is right with the world to the harsh reality and iffy moral ground of the illegal gun trade that results in more than a few people getting bullets in the brain.

Although there is some black humor, Lord of War is much more serious than the trailers would have you believe. Any time your main character is involved in a trade that is morally deplorable and strays too far into the illegal, you’re going to have sympathy issues because there isn’t going to be a happy ending. Regardless, Lord of War manages to be a solid movie that doesn’t delve too much into politics until the very end.

Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is a Ukrainian immigrant who becomes an arms dealer in order to make something of himself. We follow Yuri in his globe-trotting and gun-peddling as he hides the reality of his job from his wife Ava (Bridget Moynahan) and tries to keep two steps ahead a very persistent Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke).

Throughout the movie, my brain kept pointing out similarities to Blow, another movie that chronicles the life of a man who deals in illegal trading, albeit drugs instead of guns. The difference is George Jung is a real person, whereas Yuri (as far as I know) is not.

Yuri’s a snaky guy, having a warped moral code but a code nonetheless. He makes no apologies for who he is and no attempt to sugarcoat what he’s done (as he tells us within the first 10 minutes of the movie). He’s an opportunist and seems to enjoy his work, despite the extremely high risk of ending up dead at the end of the day. (Rule number one of gun-running, he tells us: never get shot with your own merchandise.) He’s on a first-name basis with foreign dictators, for heaven’s sake.

However, he also loves his family (parents, brother, wife and child) and for the most part wouldn’t do anything to hurt them. Nicolas Cage makes you feel for the guy, despite the flaws, so that when his life falls apart (as it inevitably will), you actually feel sorry for him.

Supporting cast was also good, especially Jared Leto as Yuri’s younger brother and business partner Vitaly. Vitaly’s a drug addict and considerably less composed than Yuri in high pressure situations, but he has a conscience that’s almost too pesky for the life of an arms dealer. He actually wants to help his fellow humans, imagine that.

It’s the same way with Ethan Hawke as Jack Valentine, the Interpol agent who seems to have made it his goal in life to get Yuri into jail. Jack is one of the few people that Yuri can’t buy off, and takes the moral high road in just about any situation. No matter how many chances Jack gets to bust Yuri in a less-than-legal (or ethical) manner, he won’t do it. And yet he’s the antagonist.

Although for the most part the acting and direction are solid, the movie tends to drag in some places. Granted, it’s spanning several decades, but it seems like some of that could’ve been cut (without much loss to the film) to pick up the pace.

And though it manages to keep from being too political throughout most of the movie, the title cards at the end (about how the top five arms dealers in the world are the five nations with permanent spots on the U.N. security council) along with Yuri’s little monologue give it a decidedly anti-arms spin.

Lord of War isn’t a happy movie, nor does it have quite as much dark humor as the marketing department would like you to think. However, it is a relatively well-made film, and if you enjoy movies like Blow, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

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