Directed by Andrew Niccol. US. 2005.

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Andrew Niccol, writer-director of Gattaca and The Truman Show, is a writer I admire for being brave in his subject matter and attaining certain flair because of it, his work seems to always exist in a world that is just outside the norm of reality, perhaps a hyper-reality.  However, first things first, Lord of War has a weak screenplay.

The film opens with the camera sweeping over a mass of disused bullets; slowly it dollies up to Nicolas Cage as Yuri Orlov, who has his back to us.  Orlov turns around and he speaks directly to the camera.  This device of talking to the camera forces the audience to appreciate and/or sympathise with this smarmy character in his suit and equally cheap smile.  What he speaks is literally what appeared in a trailer; ‘There are 550 million firearms in the world.  That is one gun for every 12 people on the planet.  The question is how do we arm the other 11?’ He smiles and the credit sequence starts, this is good showing us the journey of a bullet from munitions factory in America to storage to port to African battlefield and being firmly implanted in a small child’s forehead.

After that we are given the fictionalised story of Yuri from his days in Little Odessa, Brooklyn and how he learns that his fortune and future lies in the supply and transportation of guns and how he ropes his more moral, equally poor brother with him around the world.  Then we get the mantra, the rules (‘Never get shot with your own merchandise’) and steer clear of other vices like drugs which prove to be the ruin of his brother.  That role of Vitaly (Jared Leto) reminded me of Sean Penn’s role in The Game, an opposite to the bigger brother who suffers for his morals.

However what makes the screenplay so bad is that, Niccol employs a voiceover for Cage whose voice is so monotonous anyway and becomes so unapologetic for his actions; ‘I sell a means,’ that you cannot fail to realise he is a complete shit.  And Cage’s acting style is no big help; look, talk, smile and mix in his one scene of psychological pain it becomes another run-of-the Cage role.  The only time Cage sparkles is when he meets an opposite who is the level of him and that comes in the form of Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke – an extension of his role in Training Day), having a talented actor for there scenes of one-up dialogue make them better but Cage is still smiling and Hawke remains the angry young man.  It makes it all the more surprising that they employ a voiceover because Cage has a brilliant knack for tackling wordy dialogue with a thrust and zeal.

The end shows Cage lose everything he possesses - I say possess because he buys his wife with an idea of what he could and wishes to be – yet not lose his thirst to remain good at what he does.  It ends with a statement saying governments are far worse than any fictional character, this borders on the obvious and should be best reserved for the work of documentary makers.  A disappointing spectacle.

Jamie Garwood
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