Lord of War

| September 16, 2005

When you are in sales, you want to be great. The key to greatness is not to sell someone what they don’t need, but rather, to relate to your client, find out what they DO need, and see how you can solve that problem for them. Even in his early 20’s, Yuri Orlov was a great salesman. His product: weapons. His clients: most politically extreme governments on the planet. This is the backdrop for Lord of War, the new movie by director Andrew Niccol (The Terminal, S1mOne, Gattaca).
Nicolas Cage stars as Orlov, a cool under pressure gunrunner who’s first and most important rule is: never get shot with your own merchandise. We follow his career for 20 years from his first sale of one Uzi to a Brighton Beach gangster in 1981 to his capture by Interpol in 2001 after selling millions of AK-47s, tanks, helicopters, missiles and most anything else that can be used to tear the soul of your opponent from their body. In between, we witness the total erosion of his moral compass as evidenced by his late justification to his brother that he sells weapons for defensive purposes only.
Make no mistake about two things in Lord of War. First, it is very dark. It will fuse you to your seat and take you on an continuous roller coaster of emotion – from disbelief to horror to disgust – as you witness the selling (this was based on a true story) of billions of dollars of weapons used mostly for the subjugation of people to one dictator’s will after another, none of whom has any respect for any life but their own. Second, it is very good. Amidst all the horror, I was completely attached to Cage’s calm narrative as he explains how he built his gun running empire and how he came to be not only outside, but later, above the law because the governments who were his clients needed him to make the weapon deals that they could not make, but which were expedient to their political requirements. In other words, the governments who kept him in business, were the very members of the UN Security Council whose main purpose was to intercede in the wars he was supplying.
You will leave the theater thinking you should take a better look at the headlines of the newspaper when they scream of battles raging in far off countries you would never think of visiting on vacation, where no American generally sets foot unless they are wearing the uniform of our military or carrying the diplomatic passport of our embassy. From a political point of view, this is a two-hour antiwar statement beginning with the opening song track of the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” which follows the production one bullet from factory to its use in a fire fight where it kills a teen age boy. There is also a definite reference to the period of the Reagan administration: Orlov’s military connection to the United States is named Col. Oliver Southern. Though the tone is very much anti-violence, a warning should go to parents: this film is rated R for a very good reason – there are VERY graphic scenes of human beings being killed by many sorts of weapons.
There isn’t a bad performance to be found in this movie. Cage (Matchstick Men, Adaptation, and 10 other movies coming up) is stoic and smooth and shows none of the emotion betrayed in his narration. His brother, Vitaly Orlov is played by Jared Leto. Vitaly’s life seems to go in the opposite direction of Yuri’s. The more successful Yuri is, the more Vitaly’s life goes into the hole. We come to see Leto (Panic Room) as carrying the burden of not only his conscience, but his brother’s as well. Other stand out performances are delivered by Eamonn Walker (Tears of the Sun) as Liberian President for Life Andre Baptiste Sr. and Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings, The Fifth Element) as Simeon Weisz a competitive arms dealer.
This weekend I had the good fortune to see two movies I could recommend you see in the theater. Just Like Heaven was a very light romantic film that had me leaving the theater feeling very up and positive. Lord of War had me leaving the movie positively reeling, but very glad for having seen such a well-done film.

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