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This is one weird whacked-out movie. Lord of War wants to be a left-wing political diatribe against the arms industry and, believe me, I have no problem with that. But Lord of War plays out with characters as cartoony as say, Sin City, and so it doesn't really work. Hotel Rwanda this isn't. So, and this is a Geoff Warning, even though this film has several graphic scenes of people being shot in the head, this isn't a serious film. Lord of War is the story of an arms dealer (Nicholas Cage) who rises from humble beginnings in Little Odessa, New York to supplying African warlords (Eamonn Walker & Sammi Rotibi) with all their guns and bullets. Dogging Cage's steps is an obsessed Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) who is always one step behind. Cage goes into the arms business with his little brother (Jared Leto ) until his brother starts sending too much of their profits up his nose. Business really takes off when the cold war ends and Cage is able to get possession of much of the matériel in The Ukraine thanks to his uncle the general. Cage is also in competition with the eminence gris of arms dealers (Ian Holm). Once Cage is really rich, he pursues and marries the prom queen (Bridget Moynahan) from his high school in Brighton Beach. Needless to say after this kind of setup, a death spiral ensues.
Lord of War does have some visual style. That is to be expected from Andrew Niccol who previously directed Gattaca. That was one of the most stylish films in recent memory and if you haven't seen it, put it on your Netflix list. Unfortunately, Lord of War isn't nearly so stylish nor does it have the substance to go with it. Apparently Ethan Hawke thinks enough of Niccol after doing Gattaca with him to take a nothing part in this movie. Hawke's role could have been something, like maybe Tom Hanks role in Catch Me if You Can, but no. Similarly, Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot) is totally wasted in the stereotypical loving-wife-who-doesn't-know-her husband-is-an arms-dealer role. And Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) has the little-brother-who-can-never-get-it-together-and-is-in-and-out-of-rehab role. They can actually act a bit and Ethan Hawke really can act. Oh well. I won't even ask what Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings) thought he was doing taking his part in Lord of War. The only person who really gets a nice part in Lord of War is the title character, Nicholas Cage. He's great, but he's always great. In this movie,Cage brings the right mix of chutzpah and craziness to his role. But he can't save Lord of War. And a lot of the film is basically slapstick. Cage only has a one and a half dimensional character and the rest of the cast have to make do with one dimension. And then after all the slapstick, it's very jarring when some kid gets his brains blown out. Maybe they should have done Lord of War as a graphic novel a la Sin City and I would have got it that this is just a comic book.