- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Nicolas Cage’s Yuri Orlov could sell a pea shooter to a warlord. What the Oscar-winner can’t do in “Lord of War” is bridge the ethical disconnect of his character — an amoral arms dealer who finally figures out the dire consequences derived from his merchandise.

Cobbled together from the lives of actual gunrunners, “War” packs the kind of dark humor that only works when rooted in the truth.

Yet there’s another layer blanketing the film, an opaque shield that prevents writer/director Andrew Niccol (writer of “The Truman Show” and “Gattaca”) from getting to really know — and understand — Yuri.

Blame Yuri’s smug narration or the film’s agreeably slick pacing, but the death knell might sound from a lack of stirring supporting players. Neither Yuri’s trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan) nor his coked-up baby brother (Jared Leto) rise beyond their mechanically scripted roles.

Yuri, a Ukrainian immigrant from a gang-infested section of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, first becomes enamored with guns while watching an attempted mob hit. From there, he leverages family connections and his own budding charisma to become a small-time arms dealer for despicable tyrants across the globe. He doesn’t judge or even consider how his weapons might be used. All he cares about is the sale.

The end of the Cold War proves fortuitous for Yuri. Suddenly, the arms market explodes, and he’s there to take advantage of every two-bit thug with a militia.

Alas, Yuri’s sales genius catches the attention of a morally upright Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke). Similarly, Yuri’s wife also starts to wonder about their lavish lifestyle, asking questions for which Yuri has no ready answers.

Every nuanced revelation “War” musters about the savagery of arms wheeling and dealing is accompanied by a more obvious one that borders on overkill. That, combined with an ideological left hook toward the film’s conclusion, bludgeons the film’s crisp pacing and visual marvels.

This “War” may be muddled, but it’s a triumph of brutal imagery and often magnificent art direction.

However, the film pays far less attention to character details. We get a very modern looking Mr. Cage as a young, disillusioned immigrant. By film’s end, he looks virtually the same. OK, his sideburns do shrink a bit, even though more than a decade has passed.

Mr. Cage’s work here is very much that of a movie star who can still dazzle but can’t make us forget we’re watching a star in action. Think of the days when seeing one of his films was a goofy, near transcendent event. Remember “Raising Arizona,” “Vampire’s Kiss” or — to a lesser extent — “Peggy Sue Got Married”?

Mr. Niccol takes a huge ideological misstep by equating arms sales in general to those firearms earmarked for bloody dictators. It’s a lazy stroke, but perhaps a necessary one given the film’s already padded running time. Otherwise, politics would (wisely) get pushed aside in favor of Yuri’s narrative.

“Lord of War” raises disturbing issues in nearly every scene, but fails to find the heart, or lack thereof, beating in its protagonist.

**1/2

TITLE: “Lord of War”

RATING: R (Violence, sexual situations, strong language and drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. Original music by Antonio Pinto. Cinematography by Amir M. Mokri.

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

WEB SITE: www.lordofwarthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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