Published Sep 01, 2005If you're completely isolated from the issues, Lord of War will seem like supremely edifying cinema. If you're not, God help you.
Nicolas Cage stars as a Russian immigrant who escapes his Little Odessa hellhole by entering the illegal weapons game; pretty soon he's arming every tin-pot dictator in the third world and making a killing, so to speak. Granted, he's got a fuck-up brother (Jared Leto) to deal with and a trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan) to chase, but that's all secondary to his uncanny ability to figure out where the arms are and to which unscrupulous monster they can be sold.
Lord of War would be a thrilling expose if it weren't so completely caught up in its main character's lifestyle. Although the upright-minded will be tsk-tsking his amoral adventurism and love of the high-life, others will be thinking, "it's not a bad way to blow a billion bucks."
With its flashback narration and emphasis on excess, the film bears a passing resemblance to Goodfellas; it does for arms smuggling what the 'fellas did for the mob, except that it lacks Scorsese's nuance and cinematic brio. Whenever someone from the third world shows up though, the film's bluff is called immediately, as the scenes are so condescending and completely out of touch with reality that the film's tenuous grip on credibility is irretrievably broken.
There's a certain tacky fun to be had watching Cage get all serious while agonising over his trade, as well as the soap opera intrigue of his life and family. But there's no denying that as politics the film is facile and self-congratulatory, offering no real news beyond "guns bad." Thanks for the bulletin, people. (Maple)