Published on June 19th, 2006 | by The Beige Baron


Lord of War

Many people hate Nicholas Cage as an actor. He is accused of being wooden and lacking in range. He has starred in some terrible movies, but recently he’s landed the leading role in a couple of solid films, like Adaptation, and most recently Lord of War.

I really wasn’t expecting anything at all from this movie. I had no idea what it was going to be about, and expected it to be an action-thriller affair. Instead it was a sort of docu-drama about a Ukrainian-born American (Yuri) and his brother. Yuri decides to escape his bleak future by going into arms dealing.

The movie documents his rise from small-time racketeer to becoming the world’s biggest black-market arms dealer who would supply weapons to anyone or any group who has the money and can pay in advance.

Telling a story by narration is considered in some film circles as the Cardinal sin. Characters are supposed to be painted by their actions and dialogue rather than some disembodied voice offering a running commentary. However, the technique worked pretty well in this movie. The protagonist recounting his story lent the film a sense of foreboding and inevitable descent into hell. So it worked okay this time.

Lord of War was also competently shot in a wide variety of locations. There were some very good, high-tension scenes and some moments of black comedy. While compelling and instructive, there was something about this movie — the visual equivilent of being tapped on the shoulder and being told to pay attention to this bit — that kept it from really taking off. There was a shininess to it at times that kept me from letting go and accepting the film’s reality.

The message of the film was also heavy. It focussed on the moral responsibility of the arms dealer for the deaths of millions of innocents. Yuri’s justification that if he did not sell weapons, somebody else would, and that he did not force anybody to kill anyone else (‘I’m providing a means for people to defend themselves’). His argument is weighed against the idea that so much human misery could be spared if arms were not made available to those intent on killing each other in the first place.

This theme is well illustrated by the story. There a few occasions when you are confronted directly by it: two truckloads of AK47s are traded for diamonds behind a ridgeline in Sierra Leone. On the other side is a village where women and children wait to be slaughtered by the same guns just hours later. How could Yuri not be directly responsible for that?

I liked that this movie didn’t shy away from the complexities of the problem. I think it was good the viewer be both attracted to and repelled by Cage’s character. However, the director’s desire to hammer home his message became a little too overt at times.

I thought the cast, scriptwriters and directors did a pretty solid job of sending the message in a fascinating couple of hours of film, albiet one that lacked that enigmatic chemistry that makes a classic. And Cage, for me at least, didn’t ruin it.


— The Beige Baron 

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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