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00609 – LORD OF WAR

MovieHype00609 – LORD OF WAR

The title of the movie LORD OF WAR comes from one of the characters who says things backwards. The term is actually Warlord, but he prefers his way better. He feels the same way about “Baths of Blood.” The point—I think—is that by turning the phrase around backwards it ceases to be a glib cliché and has more power and impact.

If I can extend the analogy out a bit, this is the point of the film.

We know there are wars. We see them on TV, read about them. For the most part, they don’t seem real. Other people, other places, other pain. But did you ever wonder how these wars take place? Not ideologically; we all get hatred whether it be politics, religion, race or simple greed. But exactly how do these wars come off?

If it’s nation vs. nation, they probably make their own ammunitions. But most wars these days aren’t nations. What then?

Enter Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage). Yuri is an arms dealer. He has no politics. He’ll sell to anyone. As Yuri tells us early on, “I’ve done business with every army by the Salvation Army.”

LORD OF WAR traces 20 years in the life of Yuri. We see him sell to sheiks in the Middle East, Drug Cartels in Columbia and “Freedom Fighters” everywhere. We see the locales change from the desert to the jungle, the people change from white to brown to black. Through it all Yuri sells to anyone you can pay. He stands on the periphery of these wars –sometimes literally—but never seems to get involved emotionally with the carnage he’s helping to facilitate.

There are some gripping images and sequences, but LORD OF WAR comes to us as a dark comedy, which might be the best way to handle the misery so it doesn’t overwhelm. We like and even root for Yuri, but that’s mostly a product of Cage’s top-notch work. Believe me: the filmmakers are not taking his side.

My problem with the film is not the flippancy—although at times I could wish it was a little more hard hitting—but the script. Several characters—including a wasted Ethan Hawk as the INTERPOL agent on Yuri’s tail—seem to exist mostly to bring up plot points or moral messages. They don’t feel very real, which is too bad because Yuri and the situations he finds himself in are so real that you can easily believe they didn’t change much from the real life events LORD OF WAR is based on. (IMDB reports that the director worked with actual gun-runners to make sure he got the little details right, and he says there were more cooperative and efficient than the studio or crew.) Also, and this may be a product of giving us a movie so dead on to real life, the narrative arc at times feels forced. More than any dramatic climax and catharsis (which movie-goers are used to), LORD OF WAR feels almost like a documentary.

Andres Niccol’s directing is stellar. The opening sequence (which I won’t ruin for you) could win awards, and throughout the film the camera is always focused on the right image. At times it may seem like there’s some racial profiling going on, but even a cursory understanding of West Africa will tell you nothing here is made up. If anything they understate it.

LORD OF WAR is anti-gun to be sure. Any complex understanding of the last 5000 years of warfare yields the conclusion that guns are not the root problem here; the desire to eliminate others is. (For example, in Rwanda they used machetes and still managed to kill almost a million people.) However, I’d be foolish to suggest that the availability of weapons on such a large scale doesn’t make a difference. As one character puts it: the AK-47 is the true WMD.

But if guns are just meeting the need and not necessarily creating it, what is? The movie hints at part of the answer, and I would have perhaps liked more of a stand in this regard. However, a movie is about one thing, and LORD OF WAR is telling the story of an arms dealer and his experiences, which is fascinating, illuminating and informative enough.

I can’t blanketly recommend LORD OF WAR. If you have interest in such matters, the film works because we haven’t seen war from this side before. And Cage is just great. There’s another group I’d recommend trying out the film: People who watched (and swallowed) BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. That was propaganda masquerading itself as a documentary. LORD OF WAR is every bit a movie (and propaganda as well), but feels so much more real and hard-hitting for its honesty.

As Yuri tells us in the middle of war-torn Africa, “People who care don’t know, and people who know don’t care.”

Maybe it’s time to get out of one of those camps.


September 18, 2005

1 comment:

Ajax said...

Need to watch your editing a bit. A couple of strange word usages. And Yuri was talking to his uncle in the Ukraine when he said 'the people who care...'

And you forgot to mention the two african hotties Yuri sends away in a moment of supreme spiritual resolve. :-)