Lord of War (2005) is written, produced and directed by Andrew Niccol, co-produced by and starring Nicolas Cage. It loosely follows the life and exploits of Viktor Bout (to see Bout’s personal website go to http://www.victorbout.com). Nicholas Cage plays a somewhat fictionalized Bout, by the name of Yuri Orlov. Both men are of Ukrainian decent, though the movie does take poetic liberties and outright fictionalizes elements of the Viktor Bout Story (Merchant of Death). The movie is an exceptional tour de force in revisiting the history of gun running in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The Movie is essentially broken down into five parts.
1. Young Yuri Orlov’s First Sale
2. Pre-Cold War Gun Running
3. Post-Cold War Running
5. Consequences—or lack thereof
Lord of War opens in Brighton Beach New York. There our young immigrant Yuri Orlov works at the family restaurant. He goes across to the Palace Restaurant, where Yuri strangely finds his calling as a gun runner while caught as a bystander during a Russian Mob hit.
Soon after Orlov near “hit” experience he begins supplying local hoods with run of the mill Uzi sub machine guns. Dispirited that the profit margins are too low, he engages his younger brother Vitali as a partner, “Brothers in Arms” seems to be their motto. Orlov begins selling small arms to Columbian Narco Guerillas, elements of the Druise Christian Militia in Lebanon and the Afghan Mujhahadeen (later known as the Taliban). During these sales his brother Vitali develops an addiction to cocaine. The addiction is so blatant that he finds Vitali making a map of the Ukraine with lines of cocaine that he soon snorts. A new, yet controversial form of cartography.
Once Vitali is in rehab, Orlov recognizes he is not entirely free of the grip of addiction himself as he gazes upon a larger than life ad of his longtime dream girl Ava Fontaine. Initially, despite her suspicions, Orlov successfully manipulates Ava into believing he is in the global air freight business (not really a lie he just does not mention what the freight is). Unfortunately, the plot could have been made far better by the addition of the few delete scenes depicting Ava as a U.N. Human Rights model, strictly opposed to the spread of firearms. Naturally after the consummation of the marriage the Soviet Union collapses opening a torrent of arms sales, unprecedented absent global world war.
Starting with the fall of the USSR, the movie begins to match the real exploits of the Viktor Bout. Bout, previous to his trial and conviction at the United States District Court Southern District of New York in 2011, had not resided in New York or the U.S. However, both men did expand the bulk of their operations into Africa selling weapons. Viktor Bout began selling weapons in Angola then in Sierra Leone. The movie focuses on Yuri Orlov’s sales to a fictitious “Monrovia” (probably a country like Sierra Leone or the Sudan) led by Andre Baptiste Sr. and his son Andre Baptiste Jr., both are cannibals who believe that eating the heart of their enemies will somehow empower them.
The movie reaches its long climax when the President of Monrovia visits The Lord of War (Orlov) at this New York apartment, because Orlov is unable to run guns due to a pending Interpol investigation and troubles with the wife. By then Yuri Orlov had been persuaded to eliminate the same competition.
Not being able to say no to significantly increased profit margins our The Lord of War reengages his former client and returns to his station as his main weapons supplier. The move would prove costly as it was profitable. In the long run, Orlov’s brother is killed in a (stupidly) failed attempt to thwart a massacre with the very arms Orlov is selling. Thereafter his own wife rats him out to the authorities, then leaves him for good. His family disowns him. The trade, however, must go on.
The movie works for a number of different reasons. It is well written and well edited. Nicholas Cage, who does take just about any work throw his way, is tailor made for the role as an amoral antihero with a good mind for business, but no moral compass to guide him. The supporting cast does a superb job.
Ethan Hawke as Jack Valentine, the incorruptible Interpol agent is the very opposite of Orlov and gives the movie depth and balance.
Jared Leto as Vitaly Orlov, the hapless party animal with a moral compass, but with a more compelling addiction to drugs, alcohol and high end call girls
Bridget Moynahan as Ava Fontaine, the trophy wife and U.N. model is a good contrasting role as well.
Eamonn Walker as André Baptiste Sr. who plays the perfect third world dictator and Sammi Rotibi as André Baptiste, Jr. both are as genuine a portrayal of the Charles Taylor type of dictators who continue to wage wars of completely indiscriminate violence to the day.
Ian Holm as Simeon Weisz, who cautions Yuri Orlov to seek order and balance and to pick sides and is ultimately murdered in the chaos that the Old Guard feared.
Donald Sutherland (voice only) as Colonel Oliver Southern- is a great bit actor, playing the black-bag military operator who lurks in the shadows funding secret wars. And who pays Yuri for the “inconvenience” of being detained by our Interpol agent.
The final scene where I have never seen someone so burned before in my life does carry an interesting message though. As Yuri is paging through the New York Times he begins pointing to various not so nice groups of armed men. He then points out that the President of the United States, the largest arms dealer in the world, needs people like him because the President wants/needs to arm certain groups that he can’t be seen doing business with. Thus Yuri intimates to his Interpol captor that they are both working on the same side just different arms (no pun intended) of the government. Then the knock at the door . . .
All in all I give Lord of War an A- . I would advise the viewer to watch it twice. First to watch it, then watch the deleted scenes regarding Ava Fontaine before the second viewing. The inclusion of this sub plot would have mate Lord of War a Straight A. My guess is that the powers that be already though they had enough film as it was already running over two hours in length.