Lord of War (2005)

Rating: B-

Dir: Andrew Niccol
Star: Nicolas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, Ethan Hawke, Ian Holm

Guns don’t kill people: they just improve the efficiency of the process. That’s where amoral gun-runner Yuri Orlov (Cage) comes in: he’ll buy + sell from/to anyone, and puts his fingers in his ears and starts humming loudly whenever he meets the consequences of his actions. That applies both in his personal and business life: he blithely lies to his wife (Moynahan) about where their lifestyle comes from, and loyally gives his brother a last toot of coke before he goes into rehab. Deceit has simply become a way of life, whether dealing with a rival dealer (Holm), or avoiding a dogged federal agent (Hawke), lies come easily to the anti-hero. It’s a tribute to Cage’s performance that the character remains likeable.

Despite clunky, over-frequent voiceovers, there are moments of genius, such as the opening, with Orlov on a landscape strewn with discarded shells, followed by a POV shot depicting a round’s journey from manafacture to dispatch. The problem is, the morality is too simplistic (Niccol’s earlier Gattaca had the same issue). Blaming, as the film’s coda does, the permanent members of the Security Council for the global arms trade, is like blaming Colombian cartels for the drug problem – it’s a cheap cop-out that’ll convince only the simple-minded. If the US didn’t sell guns to African despots, would they suddenly become humanitarians? Not many DVDs come with a plea to join Amnesty International (buried in the ‘Setup’ section!) and it’s nice to see a Hollywood film tackling such a weighty issue, but the closest the movie gets to real truth is Orlov’s line, “They say evil prevails when good men fail to act. What they ought to say is, evil prevails.”