An international arms dealer (Nicholas Cage) find his business slowly falling apart from numerous factors. 

1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 8 Jan 2021 - 1:40 PM
Not your average big budget American movie.

It has been a little while since we've seen Nicolas Cage flex his acting muscles in a role worthy of his talent, the last being brilliant comedy, Adaptation (2002). His latest, Lord Of War, takes us back to the Nic Cage of old.

Based on an 'amalgam' of five real-life characters and 'years' of research, Lord Of War is an ambitious film that takes us into the clandestine industry of arms dealing. It is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, screenwriter of The Truman Show (1998) and writer/director of detached sci-fi, Gattaca (1997). Yuri Orlov (Cage) is a con man. Everything about him is a fake, perfectly qualifying him for the job as small-time gunrunner in suburban Coney Island. It also assists his move to big-time international arms dealer, facilitated by a series of 'happy accidents', blind ambition and a well-tweaked talent for opportunity spotting. The only 'real' relationship he can hold down is with his younger brother and business partner, Vitaly (Fight Club's Jared Leto). When Vitaly's drug addiction becomes 'counter productive' Yuri goes it alone. Conquering market after market he becomes king of the heap. As he tells us through laconic voice over, he 'sold guns to every army but the Salvation Army'. His winning streak is threatened however by a couple of wild cards; annoying Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Gattaca's Ethan Hawke), and aggressive East African warlord Baptiste Sr. (Oz's Eamonn Walker) – a 'client' who won't take 'no' for an answer. Ian Holm (Alien) and Bridget Moynahan (Sex & The City) round out the excellent cast playing Yuri's 'old school' rival and 'head-in-the-sand' wife respectively, given its upfront antagonistic 'social commentary'.

Lord Of War isn't your average big budget American movie. Unsurprisingly the producers found it difficult raising the US$50 million budget at home (it mostly came from international investment). But I always am surprised when a flagrantly subversive movie like Lord Of War slips under the radar and out into the mainstream and multiplexes (it's heartening, and one reason to never lose faith in the machinations of commercial film distribution). Lord Of War masquerades as an action-adventure like Top Gun (1986) yet is as satirical as David O. Russell's Gulf War drama Three Kings (1999), at times a jaw-dropping critique of American foreign policy that tosses the nation's 'right to bear arms' gun-lovin' culture right back into its lap.

To tell the sweeping story Niccol employs the swirling cinematic style Scorsese set up with Goodfellas (1990), combining much voiceover with action and drama. Although weighed down at times by the narration (too much information – we needed to see what happened rather than always being told), and too-obvious pop songs in the soundtrack, Lord Of War is still a cut above. It is a big budget political film that is entertaining and very relevant. And as laconic 'loner' Yuri, Nicolas Cage keeps the film on track with a magnetic central performance he was born to play.


Watch 'Lord of War'

Saturday 16 January, 8:30pm (NOTE: No catch-up at SBS On Demand)

USA, 2005
Genre: Action
Language: English
Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ian Holm, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, Eamonn Walker, Bridget Moynahan

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2 hours 2 min