January 18, 2006 – “Lord of War” should have been one of the best films I saw all year, but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong. It is a well-made film, better than average, informative, well acted, etc… I mean, all the elements for greatness are there, but it just doesn’t seem to matter. I think, it honestly had a lot to do with Nicolas Cage’s (“Leaving Las Vegas”) protagonist Yuri Orlov. You just don’t care about him one way or the other. Again, it’s a solid performance, don’t get me wrong, and I’d even argue a perfect portrayal of the character. He’s indifferent about what he does, and he has to be to do it. To borrow a line from “The Godfather”: “It’s not personal. It’s business.”
“Lord of War” is the story of Yuri Orlov, a young American of Ukrainian descent, who desperate to achieve the American dream, takes up the trade of illegal arms dealership, after finding out very quickly that he’s damn good at it. So good that as we follow his rise through the ’80s and on into the ’90s, he becomes the best at what he does, acquiring riches and the woman of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan [“I, Robot”]), all while continuously eluding a very determined and persistent Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke [“Training Day”]) and out-dueling veteran competition (Ian Holm [“The Day After Tomorrow”]. But as we all know, we must take the bad with the good, and Yuri’s no exception, falling victim to the never-ending nature of his profession and lifestyle, he alienates all those he loves except his little brother (Jared Leto [“Fight Club”]) who he instead drags down with him in the process.
“Lord of War” is a solid feature. It’s informative, and has all the elements of an entertaining piece of cinema, but I could just never seem to get that emotionally involved in it. The movie’s just very sterile and businesslike, like its subject Yuri, which again is good in that it allows us to see gunrunning like he does, in this emotionally detached way. It’s the only way he can live with what he does, and it makes “Lord of War” very interesting as a character study. There is emotion in the film, however, in the form of Yuri’s little brother Vitaly. He is the heart, the conscience of the film, and draws us into “Lord of War” when he emotes near the end more than anything or anyone does at any other point in the picture. It’s a movie filled with many disturbing images that are all, for the most part, filtered through Yuri’s vision, but it’s most effective moments are those brief ones seen through Vitaly’s eyes, and then through Yuri’s changed vision near the end of the film. Overall, “Lord of War”‘s a pretty numbing experience, because we see so much of it from Yuri’s point of view, and that can be boring at times, but it’s just the truth as he sees it in all its gory detail, and something people need to see and understand.