Lord of War (2005)
director: Andrew Niccol | runtime: 2h 2mins | Crime, Drama
Ukrainian immigrant Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) becomes one of the biggest arms dealers in the world, but in the process is forced to face the morality of his work. While his international acclaim grows stronger, a dedicated Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) begins to track his every move.
In the first 10 minutes of Lord of War we see an instant fourth wall break from our main character as he talks to the audience about guns and the business of running them. This is then followed by a somewhat unique approach to an opening credit sequence which sees the journey a single bullet takes from production, to warfare. These opening minutes of Niccol’s crime drama look hopeful to add a long awaited gem to his filmography (his first being Gattaca ), they are flashy and eye-catching enough to keep you hooked early on but what follows is sad decline of quality, that’s only masquerading the fact that there’s little else to take from the entire film other than it’s opening credits.
Credit where it’s due, Lord of War keeps it’s tone consistent throughout, adhering to the fast paced lifestyle of it’s character and sticking with an editing style that feels like it’s trying to emulate something similar to City of God (2002). But unfortunately, the biggest downfall of this film has is in it’s shallow content, hoping to use these cute skills in editing and misplaced narration to distract you from the fact that there is nothing underneath. As each scene gradually becomes more and more transparent, all while exhausting it’s different approach with a narration that comes and goes at the strangest of times. One scene in particular that sees Yuri interacting with his family near the end, which is strangely interrupted by Yuri’s inner thoughts making any kind of levity feel nonexistent.
As for Cage, it’s not secret that even after 30+ years as an actor, it’s still difficult to know what makes him great. In Leaving Las Vegas (1995) he showed an outpour of talent to win him his one and only Oscar, in Raising Arizona (1987) he showed impeccable quirks that proved him as a great comedic actor and even more recently he showed his pure uncontrollability in Mandy (2018). But unfortunately for Cage, Lord of War does not allow him to harness any of his unique powers, and instead relies heavily on his monotone delivery and unwelcome narration, making the films shallowness all the more prominent.
While there is nothing wrong with following formula, it’s difficult to get onboard with a lot of real-life rise and fall films, and Lord of War is no different. At their best this type of film is being represented by Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and maybe even Ted Demme’s biopic Blow (2001), but where these films ooze style and a little extra flair to their formulas, Lord of War doesn’t feel quite up to scratch, struggling to balance to lavish lifestyle with consequence and ending the film on very glorifying terms. But in the films defence, this territory is difficult to avoid when talking about real life subjects.
For all it’s big flaws Lord of War does have moments of fun, and is probably the reason for it’s audience appreciation, but these moments of fun are fleeting in a film thats bogged down by a lifeless and under utilised cast (Ian Holm and Ethan Hawke are particularly underused). Despite this film having a surface level quality the sad truth is that it’s one dimensional approach makes it come and go in a flash, leaving only a stale and formulaic impression on you.