Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lord of War – Sleeper hit of the season

Often times you know exactly what you’re getting when you step into a movie theater. Nowadays there’s so much information floating around on the internet, in magazines and via word of mouth that it’s hard to find something under the radar: good movies are rare enough that when they come along they’re caught way in advance. So it’s with absolute befuddlement that I find that Lord of War isn’t getting the positive press, box office, attention or even the controversy that it deserves. Suffice to say that I’m pretty pissed off because this is a damn good movie on an interesting subject with quality performances and a message that means something. In other words, it’s everything that Hollywood hasn’t delivered this summer and was punished for; only people STILL aren’t going to the movies. Come on people.

Nicholas Cage plays arms dealer Yuri Orlov in a typical rise and fall story. What’s atypical however is the fascinating look into what this man does and the flair with which it’s accomplished. The film uses a voice over narration but in addition to using it simply using it to advance the plot, director Andrew Niccol also uses it to explain the finer details of his trade including some of the more horrible dealings that man can be involved in. From the Sierra Leone diamond trade to Savage Capitalism in Ukraine; we see how where there is pain and hatred, there is someone ready to buy and sell the means to transform those things into action and a human being into a corpse. Nick Cage hasn’t had a good role in ages, but there’s something to his swarmy, self-justifying Yuri that works perfectly within the film and I’m glad to see him back in top shape. His supporting cast does a fine job as well: Jared Leto is great as a drug addict (duh) and Ethan Hawk’s self-righteous but ultimately ineffective Interpol agent proves that it takes more than good intentions to save the world and ultimately he’s got at least one thing in common with Orlov as neither truly want their hands dirty.

Perhaps it’s the cold, cynical tone of the film which makes it such a refreshing surprise. In a world of Hotel Rwandas, Constant Gardeners and other bleeding heart films, here we see war from the perspective of someone who doesn’t give a damn and we’re instantly reminded of ourselves. How many people spend even a second of their day thinking that an African child is going to die because of a weapon made in a country that’s part of the UN Security Council? Seeing someone who’s able to save lives wantonly go on to destroy them is a thousand times more heartbreaking than seeing someone fail to help because at least there was an effort in the second case. Lord Of War is so deeply moving because Yuri Orlov isn’t evil, he’s just a cold rational, uncaring product of western civilization. Our civilization.

In the end, Andrew Niccol’s work is a success and stands as the best thing he’s been involved in since Gattaca. The film isn’t especially pretty and the cinematography is average at best (though it has a nice opening sequence) but the visuals aren’t distracting and as a story it’s definitely something that people need to see, particularly in the gun happy US. One wonders if a country so proud of their right to bear arms is even willing to see the dark side of what their zest for weaponry accomplishes, but that’s the great thing about Lord of War: it pulls no punches and says what it has to say without dressing it up in emotional terms or personal tragedies.

And THAT is an accomplishment in itself in the major studio system. Go see this film.


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