Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
I'm starting to believe that Nicholas Cage is incapable of appearing in normal movies anymore. He had a good run for awhile there appearing in some fun popcorn action flicks, but in recent years it seems that every role he plays is a little strange (sometimes a LOT strange, witness movies like "Adaptation"). But I'm not complaining because there's something about the offbeat and unexpected that allows his acting skills to shine through (enough so that I will forgive his forays into terrible fare like "The Wicker Man" remake). It's almost as though Cage knows that he stands out in weird roles, so he turns
down every straightforward role in favor of quirky, sardonically satirical roles such as the arms dealer he plays in "Lord of War." This is a movie that I started watching out of boredom, intending to stop after about a half an hour, but I was so thoroughly engrossed that I simply couldn't walk away; I had to keep watching to see what happened. That is an indescribable gift. In a time where I find myself struggling not to walk out halfway through most of the tripe I
watch these days, to have such a greatly engrossing film like this fall into my lap simply thrills me.
The movie begins with a bit of voice over narration alerting the viewer that Cage's character Yuri is looking back on his life and telling us the story of his life, and it's an interesting story. He learned at an early age from his family that sometimes lies are necessary as they came to this country pretending to be Jewish and allowed that lie to continue throughout their lives.
Yuri adopts a lazes-faire attitude toward his story and his actions, not trying to defend himself or what he's done but rather straightforwardly recounting the events that led to his illegal career. He drifted through life looking for something that would allow him to succeed, and soon he realized that if he became an arms dealer he would make a lot of money. That motivation alone was enough to persuade him to give it a shot despite the danger involved, and after a shaky start he discovers that he is good at what he does, deftly navigating the dangerous world of illegal arms dealings, concealing his actions from the government at every turn and taking his brother Vitaly along for the ride. Soon the danger and complicated nature of the profession gets under Vitaly's skin and he becomes addicted to cocaine; at which point Yuri begins to feel guilty and pays for his brother to go to rehab.
Jared Leto is great in his role as Vitaly. He's the emotionally charged voice that at first sounds jealous of Yuri's success but later becomes the voice of reason or moral compass if you will, clearly objecting to Yuri's activities and trying to get his brother to see that this gun running career isn't just about making money, it's about supplying the weapons that massacre people, and thus some of that blood is on Yuri's hands as well. But Yuri doesn't see it that way, and that's what makes the movie so interesting. At every turn where I was expecting a speech or righteous indignation or a sappy tirade about how violence is bad and Yuri must learn the error of his ways, the movie refuses to delve into the maudlin and ordinary. Yuri knows that if he doesn't supply the guns someone else will, and as long as people are going to kill each other there will be a demand for weapons, and he might as well supply those guns and make a profit and wring whatever good he can for himself out of other people's greed.
It's a rather despicable attitude, but in a way it's understandable. Yuri is right, people will always kill each other, and the way he describes his actions makes it clear that he lives according to his own moral code, whether people agree with him or not. For instance, he professes love for his trophy wife and we believe him even when he sleeps with countless other women on his travels, and his only comment on this is to offhandedly mention that it doesn't matter to his wife, she knows he loves her because every time he sleeps with her he does so as if she's the only woman in his life. And I'll be damned if it doesn't work. It's almost impossible to hate Yuri even when he's doing the most nefarious things simply because he's so nonchalant about it. He doesn't try to make himself look good or justify what he does (beyond once trying to explain to Vitaly that if they don't sell the guns someone else will, and what people do with those guns is not their concern). It's refreshing to encounter a movie that's more concerned with telling a story than with telling us what to think or feel, and by the very end of the movie, when it spouts its obvious stabs at educating the audience, the movie has been so straightforward up to that point that I think it's earned it's right to tell us what it thinks about the issues it presents. The movie is definitely thought-provoking and well worth a look.
Even when Cage is doing weird, despicable things, he's still likable and engaging and his performance carries this film. At times an action flick, at times a commentary on what violence does to people, and at times a biting satire, this movie was a pleasant surprise and a highly satisfying viewing experience for me.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older