Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Movie Review: Lord of War
Directed by Andrew Niccol, Starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke
So, the first thing that I must say about this film is that I feel it was an ambitious project, producing a film that flies in the face of America's infatuation with a utopian paradise. This movie has no qualm about dramatizing the vicious nature of many third-world countries' civil struggle. Not only does the movie deal with the corrupt and evil leaders buying weapons, but it also shows you the young children being lined up before a firing squad, or being attacked by machetes. Images of Cage's character's (Orlov) slick existence in Manhattan are coupled with images of extreme poverty in Africa.
So the movie attempts for something that few accomplish: A tounge-in-cheek attitude towards one of the most morbid of stories told in recent cinema. A nonchalante humor as we watch horible things happen to human beings. Opportunities to laugh, as if humor is the only way we would be able to deal with the story we were hearing. This has been accomplished in films before, but this film missed the mark for a good part of the film. Only in the last twenty minutes did I feel that the film finally hit its stride.

The first hour of the film feels horribly clunky, with an almost unbelievably cliched script as we watch Nicolas Cage and Jared Leto akwardly stumble around, trying to convince their audience that they are, indeed, brothers. Oh, and Russian Jews, by the way. Cage only chews on about 25% of his lines, allowing us to comprehed what he's saying most of the time. The story progresses, despite the contrived scenarios and even more deliberate voice-overs by Orlov. If you had tried to film a complete set-up for this film in only two days of shooting, it would probably had the feel of the first hour of film. I felt that the first two-thirds of this movie were prelude, letting me never feel like we got to the first act.
(Incidentally, the most entertaining part of this movie for me was the very beginning as credits are rolling, we take a bullet's perspective on his trip from the factory all the way to Africa, where we are jarringly shot into someone's head. What a great way to start the film!)

We eventually find ourselves at the point of moral dilmena for Cage's character. One must operate under the premise that Orlov has very little moral fortitude to begin with, as he spends his days providing assault rifles to the as-of-yet 93% of the population still unarmed. Despite the pleadings from his wife and his brother's death, Orlov finally concedes that he "can not fight his biology" and is doomed to be gun trafficking for the rest of his days. Ethan Hawke plays an American agent on Orlov's trail, who finally gets his man, only to lose him once again.

Overall, this story does have a very good premise, examining the amorality behind the people who do business in this way (as the movie does say at the close, it is based on "actual events")providing to countless, faceless people with the means to destroy themselves. Those in the movie who have moral feelings about the nature of Orlov's business are eliminated at one point or another during the movie, mostly by virtue of their own beliefs. Orlov's brother meets his demise as he tries to destroy weapons that will inevitably kill defensless Liberians. While it doesn't have a nice punch-line to the end of the film, the movie seems content to just leave us with an acurate taste in our mouth. Sadly, between watching Nicolas Cage's hit-or-miss acting and the politics of the film, the validity of this film gets a little washed out.
Grade: Three out of Five


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