Shell casings carpet the ground in "Lord of War." Stacks of U.S.
dollars fill suitcases. Bodies are left behind. Fired in a frenzy
normally reserved for Xbox afternoons, bullets are but one item in
the lethal inventory of Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage): the dollars are
the profit and bodies the loss.
"Lord of War" is an episodic journey through 20 years of Yuri's
life as a mega-successful, and highly illegal, international arms
dealer. The story opens in New York where Yuri is one of many Russian
immigrants dreaming of vast American riches. These visions of wealth
lead Yuri to sell guns to the local Russian Mafia. Soon, with an
overseas assist from his uncle in the Soviet Army, Yuri is providing
weapons to blood-soaked warlords the world over.
Despite a premise rife with dramatic and blackly comedic
possibility, "Lord of War" is a misfire. We realize almost
immediately that Yuri's soul is as empty as one of his spent
shell-casings. The characters surrounding Yuri are just as vacant as
he, which admittedly may be the point, but doesn't make the film any
Vitaly (Jared Leto), Yuri's brother, a cliched drug and
boozehound, is obviously doomed from the start. Ava (Bridget
Moynahan), Yuri's hopelessly naive trophy wife, is blind to how her
husband really earns his money. Worse, Ava is a cipher and, despite
her beauty, the film grinds to a halt every time she appears on
screen. Ultimately you become numb to the entirety of the proceedings
as Yuri moves from one arms deal to the next.
The high point of "Lord of War" is its far too infrequent, though
distinct, dashes of black wit and visual invention.
Of special creative note: the credit sequence with its deadly
denouement, Yuri crunching numbers with his foot on the face of an
overturned statue of Lenin, and the girls costumed as Dallas Cowboy
cheerleaders that accompany African warlord Andre Baptiste Sr.
It's too bad that talented writer-director Andrew Niccol was
unable to weave more of these elements into a compelling tale of
modern war and commerce.
Andrew Niccol, who wrote, directed and produced the film "Lord of
War," also wrote the original story for and was executive producer of
Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks and Catherine
* BOB HARRIS has been hooked on movies since he was 13 when his
brother got a job in a multi-plex and Bob saw all the movies he
wanted for free.