Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lord of War

Kind of appalling. Can't decide whether to be a black comedy, a condem-nation of the arms industry/ government buyers, or an exploration of the downfall of a man who, personally, couldn't commit to the moral vacancy that he espoused as a businessman. Though it decently swerves between each, "Lord of War" is weakened each time its purpose shifts.

Ultimately, the key flaw of the movie is attempting to attract the audience to as morally reprehensible a character as Cage's. His eluding of Ethan Hawke is structured like a "haha, fuck THE MAN because I'm a gangsta" escape, and his opening statement to the audience - "1 out of 12 people in the world owns a gun. My question is: how can we arm the other 11?" - invites a Tony Montana-like fondness from the outset.

But when the audience stares down what Cage is escaping to - greasing the wheels of the war machine - they just can't reconcile their empathy with their disdain for him. Director Andrew Niccol invites the ambivalence with his opening sequence, chronicling the journey of a bullet from the factory floor to an indigenous boy's skull. Is a gun-runner absolved of the immeasurable damage his products do simply because he enjoys selling them and never uses them? The question is indeed compelling - well, maybe at first. But Orlov sees firsthand the lethal fruits of his labor and, quite clearly, is a plain greedy and despicable man, notwithstanding his transparent charms and moral ambiguity. His losses - personal and monetary - do not inspire sympathy but more contempt and disappointment when they fail to deter him from continuing his deadly trade.

Still worse is Cage's defense - one of absolute recrimination of both governments and car/tobacco dealers, and deferral of guilt to the people that actually fire his products. In this respect the film attempts to adopt a political consciousness by depicting governments as the greater of two evils. Especially at film's end, it works, but not nearly enough to exonerate our protagonist to the point of actually, you know, liking him.

Bridget Moynahan passably fulfills the role of the wife who just doesn't wanna be lied to anymore, goddamnit, while Jared Leto's antics as the fuck-up younger brother are adequate comic relief. The coke-outline of Ukraine was a definite hoot. Ethan Hawke, sporting the righteous fury of a by-the-book Interpol agent pursuing Orlov, provides the moral yardstick against which Cage just crumbles into ash and goes straight to Hell.

I enjoyed the scene where the Liberian dictator shot Cage's competitor (a business-as-usual Ian Holm). Excellent, if slightly obvious metaphor for Cage's Eichmann-esque philosophy about gun-running. The shot of Cage chatting on his cell phone while sitting on a toppled statue of Lenin against the backdrop of an endless row of Russian tanks was another delight.

(photo courtesy of

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