Cage Brings Out the Heavy Artillery to “Lord of War”
“Lord of War,” the latest star vehicle for Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage, is not an easy film to watch. From its inception, it is both fascinating, and at times excruciating to witness. Ultimately, how satisfying an experience it will be will depend on whether you can tolerate the frequently disturbing images long enough to appreciate the strong performances and sharp storytelling.
Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, an Ukrainian-American gunrunner and the closest thing to a protagonist the film has to offer. He’s no hero, but he’s not exactly an anti-hero either. From a young age, Yuri realizes that the standard 9-to-5, workaday life is not for him. He starts out selling arms small-time in his neighborhood before realizing the big money lies not in local gang wars but in the actual wars being fought around the world. Soon he is joined by his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), a cocaine-snorting brother-in-arms and occasional sidekick. As Ava, Bridget Moynahan is the woman Yuri romances and marries, who all the while casts a blind eye to the way Yuri earns his living. Rounding out the stellar cast is Ethan Hawke as Jack Valentine, the Interpol agent who is relentless in his pursuit of Yuri but who never appears in quite the right place at the right time to close the deal.
Director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”), who also wrote the screenplay, fashions a distinctive, stylish, and intelligent film. Despite it’s subject matter, there are many humorous moments that serve to lighten the mood. Credit Cage for his work on the film’s narration, especially important here because the story spans more than 20 years and the voiceover serves to bridge the gaps between the segments being played out onscreen.
A couple of years ago in “Matchstick Men,” Cage played a guy you weren’t really supposed to like, but you wound up doing it anyway. Something similar happens here. Even as his life begins to crumble– through no one’s fault but his own– you feel for Yuri and empathize with his plight. That doesn’t mean you pull for him either, but you care enough to not want to see him go down in flames.
This much is certain: If you go, be sure to show up on time. “Lord of War” features a truly unique, visceral opening title sequence. Not only is it riveting to watch, but it is the perfect precursor for the two hours of film that follow.
What remains unclear even after the final credits roll is the film’s purpose. This is all too common among today’s cinema fare, but it does not by necessity indicate that a film is not worthy of attention. In the case of “Lord of War,” I am not sure if the goal is social commentary or satire, or whether the movie is intended as a cautionary tale about the evils of avarice and deception. Maybe it’s a pro-gun control propaganda piece.
This much is certain: Cage, Leto, Moynahan, and Hawke deliver the goods. If you prefer your movie violence abundant and well-crafted, “Lord of War” is likely to draw your attention.
Be prepared to be both engrossed and repulsed at the same time.
Rated R for strong violence, drug use, language and sexuality.