Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lord of War (2005)

Director: Andrew Niccol                              Writer: Andrew Niccol
Film Score: Antonio Pinto                           Cinematography: Amir Mokri
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto and Ian Holm

I make no bones about it; I actively dislike Nicholas Cage’s early films. He’s not just uninteresting, but the characters he played were repellant for me. That said, there are a number of films from his later career that I absolutely love. The tipping point for me, I would say, is Guarding Tess, where his character became serious for the first time, the eye of the hurricane in an otherwise insane situation, and in that way he has drawn my admiration and enjoyment. He can still do stinkers like Ghost Rider, but for the most part I enjoy his films now, whether it’s something completely offbeat, like The Weather Man, or strictly mainstream like National Treasure.

Lord of War is a difficult film in many ways. While there is seemingly a certain amount of suspense, there isn’t really. For the most part the plot is straightforward and predictable. Cage is a second generation Russian in New York who finds easy access because of his background into the gun trade. As he works his way up in the business with his brother, he attempts to buy the American Dream life he always imagined he wanted, a trophy wife, a young son, beautiful Manhattan apartment, all while attempting to keep his two lives completely separate. Of course his brother can’t handle what they’re doing and resorts to drug abuse, his wife never sees him, his son begins to play with toy guns, and he begins to hate himself. The requisite “moment of clarity” comes toward the end but, to the film’s credit, it takes a different turn. And this is what saves it, the predictability becoming a moment of clarity for the audience by the end.

The subtext of the film is selling arms to third world countries, whose only use for them is to kill their own people in civil wars, ethnic cleansing, or to maintain power. None of them seem justified, and yet the guns keep pouring into those countries and the “bath of blood” continues unabated. If he quits selling, Cage constantly tells those who will listen, someone else will move right in and continue. The relationship that is used as the symbol for all of them is with Eamonn Walker, who plays a fictional African leader named Andre Baptiste--it’s a great name, because it sounds enough like Batista to ring true. Walker is great in the role, as is his son Sammi Rotibi, and their seemingly indiscriminate murders underscore the precarious position that Cage is in. But is he really? Walker needs him and, ironically, so does the country selling the arms. While Cage appears to be in danger the entire film, things are not as they seem.

Cage does a tremendous job playing Cage in the film. The rest of the cast, with the exception of the execrable Ethan Hawke, is very good in support. Ian Holm is the Russian who is competing with Cage. The younger brother whose conscience won’t let him enjoy his success is played believably by Jared Leto, and Cage’s supermodel wife is very well done by Bridget Moynahan. Donald Sutherland even gets an important voice-only role. Lord of War is disturbing in many ways, and some will be disappointed with the ending. But that is the only way it could end with any satisfaction, and certainly symbolizes the problem in a realistic way.

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