Looking for a hero? You’ll be hard pressed to find one here. Lord of War covers the ins and outs of the gun and weapon trade industry in much the same fashion that The Godfather, Goodfellas or Scarface portrays gangster and mafia life. Just as with those films, it is also difficult to find a rooting interest as Lord of War is plastered with insincere men making unethical life choices. The dilemma left is a lack of care as to the fate of the stories’ main characters. But let us not forget that the business outlined in Lord of War is one that is full of men with little to no conscience. For that, it is a smart move on behalf of Director Andrew Niccol to produce a character that is so unharmed by the struggles of those he is close to. After all, if these were moral men, they would be less likely to get caught up in such a lifestyle to begin with. The realness of the situation is what makes Lord of War a solid film. Though at times, it seems to tug away at your mind in a way that makes you question why we should care so much about Yuri Orlov (Nicholas Cage). Yuri’s family descended from the Ukraine during the early stages of the Cold War and posed as Jews in the village of Little Odessa in Brooklyn, New York. The film spans nearly two decades of his life picking up steam as he discovers he is no longer content working as a cook at his parents’ local restaurant. He wants more out of life and enlists the help of younger brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) to help run gun trade operations. Before long, Yuri becomes filthy rich off his talent and scans the globe to places like Israel, Afghanistan and many African nations. In an early stop in Beirut, Lebanon, the brothers witness unjust violence toward civilians that are likely carried out with the weapons in which they sold.
“It’s not our fight,” says Yuri to a distraught, yet helpless Vitaly.
This is the first foreshadowing that Vitaly may not be completely thrilled with the consequences of their dealings. However, Yuri presses on to the point that he has weapons in 8 of the world’s top 10 war zones. No rhyme or reason to his actions, Yuri is strictly a business man. By his own admission he sells…”Israeli made Uzis to Muslims…communist made bullets to fascists…but never to Osama Bin Laden (who had a habit of bouncing checks).”
Correspondingly, it is a deal gone awry in Colombia that leads to the eventual drug addiction of Vitaly. With rehabilitation in order, Yuri is then left as a one man crew. This is where his lies and deceit begin to exhaust him. He marries his fantasy girl, Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynihan), but there is a problem with this situation. As Yuri explains, getting in an actual relationship with a dream girl means that she begins to turn real. The truth is that Yuri is simply a money whore with little remorse for the sufferings of loved ones. The further reality is that the swift marriage began with lies and Ava’s lack of knowledge of who Yuri actually is.
A son is born (one that rarely sees his father); a wife grieves as she is unaware of her husbands doings (although she knows it isn’t something wholesome); a brother battles the ghosts of addiction; a mother and father spend their days worrying about the paths their sons have chosen; and a world of poverty stricken nations become more and more violent and hostile every day. For what?
Well, it’s simple really. GREED!! Lords of war, as Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker) labels them, are a fierce breed. Where Yuri differs from others is that he doesn’t ever commit murders firsthand. He is not a violent man, but a man in search of a quick buck. Somewhere under the black suits and sunglasses, Yuri may even have a hidden conscience. That is far from the case with his number one client—Baptiste, the self proclaimed president of Liberia. Walker stands out as one of the top performances for his portrayal of the fictitious (though based on actual events) terrorist.
The performances are all around solid. Including Ethan Hawke as agent Jack Valentine, who is obsessed with capturing Yuri from the outset. Leto is very good as Vitaly and he gives a sincere account of a person struggling to find his meaning in life. He is also one of the few characters (along with Yuri’s wife Ava) you find yourself rooting for.
The film’s imagery is equally powerful. This starts with the opening scene in which we witness the life of a bullet from practically first person perspective (almost as if the cameras take us through the eyes of the bullet). Other memorable scenes include witnessing the glamorous lives of Yuri and the other warlords alongside the helpless faces of poverty. The scenes in Africa are especially moving.
The film has flaws though. Most of my concerns lie with Yuri as a person. Though I understand the need for his character to be unsympathetic—I wish there was more devotion to the suffering of the ‘good’ and less concentration on the glamorous life of the ‘bad.’ It also seems that some of the decisions Yuri makes are way out of line. For example, he may take 2 minutes out of his life to kiss his son goodnight, but he is more concerned about issues that effect his financial operations than his son’s first steps. Furthermore, he is swift to cheat on his wife when his health is not in danger, but when he feels his personal health could be harmed—he abstains.
As the film follows the life of Yuri, many questions arise. Can and will this man change his ways in time to salvage his marriage? Is he addicted to his business and lifestyle in much the same way his brother is addicted to cocaine?
But we are also left questioning mankind as a whole. Why must such horrible violence be promoted through the sale of weapons? Lord of War has been criticized as being left wing propaganda. Call it what you want, but I prefer to call it a cry for help and a plea to stop these senseless trade operations for which the U.S. is the world’s largest contributor. Unfortunately, the cries and pleas will go unnoticed by both politicians and the American people.
If you can make it through the first portion of the film (which somewhat drags on in a pace that makes you wonder, ”So what?”), the final hour of the film really picks up the pace and finds its message. Though not a masterpiece or one of the best films of 2005, Lord of War should take its rightful place among the second tier of films. 2 discs!?!?! That seldom makes me happy. As usual, the special features for Lord of War are splendid, but not of so much content that one disc couldn't suffice.
The best of the features is “The Making of Lord of War." Maybe it's just the enthralling subject matter, but this is one of the most pleasing 'making of...' features I have seen on a DVD. In it, Director Andrew Niccol explains how the crew actually worked with arms dealers to get real weapons for the film. He further explains how this was surprisingly cheaper than buying fake weapons. "The Making of..." also goes into detail about the locations the movie was filmed in and the message behind the movie. It lasts about 20 minutes.
The only other featurette is titled "Making a Killing: Inside the International Arms Trade." This is a short 15 minute documentary that discusses areas such as small arms trade, black markets, and U.S. military spending. One of the concentrations also lies with Liberia's Charles Taylor-a real life warlord.
There is a photo gallery of the most memorable still frames from the film and seven deleted scenes. Most of these are a short 30 to 50 seconds that were simply shortened from their original take. None of the deleted scenes are particularly noteworthy. Instead, they are situations and conversations that would have added little substance to the film. Another feature is "Weapons of the Trade," which displays photos drawings of the AK 47, Famas, Clock 19, M16, M240, HK MP5, RPG-7, and UZI. Clicking on each photo allows you to read about the history and specifics of the weapon.
The 2 disc situation surely lowers the grade of this DVD, but the superb documentaries in some ways make up for it. Buy it and watch with an open mind.
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