Lord of War (2005)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Political Drama, Crime Thriller  |   Release Date - Sep 16, 2005 (USA)  |   Run Time - 122 min.  |   Countries - France , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Lord of War is a really good movie -- if you stop watching after the opening credits. That first sequence is virtuoso, following a bullet (through "bullet's eye view") from the moment of its birth in a factory, to the moment it lodges itself in the forehead of a combatant. The rest of Andrew Niccol's film is an unmitigated disaster. Lord of War wants to remind viewers of Three Kings, fleshing out the hip absurdities of violent conflict, but it suffers from a fatal dearth of cleverness. The film's most obvious sin is that it's so obvious, ranging from on-the-nose song choices (Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" plays during a scene of cocaine use) to easy telegraphs (a character proclaims himself the luckiest man in the world, right before being blown up by a car bomb). As Yuri Orlov, Nicolas Cage is both an unlikable protagonist and a stultifying narrator -- in a classic case of forgetting that film is a visual medium, Niccol forces Cage to drone out shallow explanations throughout. This kind of thing works in Goodfellas, another obvious inspiration for Niccol -- but there, Henry Hill's words were an essential companion piece to sorting out an unknown underground. Gun-running is also unknown, but the penetration into this world is surface level at best, miscalculated at worst, as though Niccol didn't bother to find out how real gun-running actually works. Jared Leto is utterly wasted as Orlov's whiny screw-up brother, a designation he continually repeats for viewers who might have forgotten his plot function. Neither he nor Cage seems the least bit Russian. Ethan Hawke has even less to do as a government agent continually castrated by Orlov's narrow escapes. Lord of War wants to be a rebelliously cool profile of a profane antihero, someone disagreeable like a used car salesman or a tobacco lobbyist. Instead, it's just profane.