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Lord of War
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Lord of War opens with Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth.  During the course of the song we see the birth of a bullet, all the way through to the death of the human it kills.  It's a powerful start to a film that, while taking some chances, doesn't ever live up to the promise of the opening credit sequence. 

Yuri (Nicolas Cage) is sick of working at his father's restaurant.  When running an errand for his dad, he sees a mafia hit.  Rather than letting it terrify him for life, Yuri turns it into a career-building opportunity.  Restaurants will stick around because people will always need food.  And guns will be sold, because people will always need to kill.  "It's in our nature," Yuri reminds us.

It doesn't take long for Yuri to become a popular gunrunner.  Within a few years of the Cold War ending, he is one of the most successful "freelance" gunrunners around.  This is partially due to the fact that Yuri doesn't pick sides.  He'll sell to anyone.  He never sold to Osama, but that was just because the terrorist leader's checks were bouncing at the time. 

A film with a lead character as un-Hollywood as Yuri seems to be a movie wanting to make a point.  Still, 2 days after watching Lord of War, I can't decide what, if anything, it was trying to tell us.  We're told that the 5 permanent members of the U.N. Security Council each sell more weapons than any other country.  We're told that our President sells more weapons in a day than Yuri sells in a year, and people like Yuri exist because the President needs a way to get those weapons sold without U.S.A. Government fingerprints all over them.  But we're never told this is a bad thing.  We're never told it is wrong.  "Shouldn't we just assume it?" Some of you may ask.  Obviously, you've never read Soldier of Fortune magazine.  There are plenty of people that will assume just the opposite.  They will nod their heads in agreement whenever Yuri says, "it's not our war."  They may even say, "darn tootin'" -- but only if they're nerdy.

Lord of War is clearly not a "message" movie.  That leaves us with a movie about guns.  Does it work?  Yes and no.  Writer/Director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, S1m0ne) keeps the film interesting with frenzied camerawork and startling imagery (including stylized nudity and the massacre of children).  It's too bad the story itself didn't take many chances.  The script does deal with controversial issues such as genocide, African civil wars, and conflict diamonds.  But if you didn't already know how many children were being slaughtered, or having their arms and legs lopped off, for that rock you wear on your finger, would this movie inform you?  Probably not.  Kanye West's recent single, Diamonds From Sierra Leone tells its listeners more in a few lines than Lord of War does in over 2 hours ("this ain't Vietnam, still people lose hands, legs, arms ... Little was known of Sierra Leone, and how it connect to the diamonds we own.  Over there they die from what we buy, the diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses, I thought my Jesus Piece was so harmless 'til I seen a picture of a shorty armless.").

The movie made me mad that it didn't say more.  That it left everything up in the air.  A decade ago, people predicted that diamonds would become the new fur.  That women (and men) would be shunned for wearing them.  Unfortunately, that has yet to happen.  Even the people who know about the blood behind the rock are putting the ring on their finger or buying the ring for their woman.  Until they are shamed into "just saying no," this practice will continue.  There's no need for it, and there are plenty of pretty rocks that don't cost, quite literally, an arm and a leg (usually a child's).  Why not pawn those diamond rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets and donate the money you're paid to Amnesty International

Admittedly, Andrew Niccol's screenplays have never bludgeoned you to death with their message.  They've always been open to interpretation.  Was Gattaca (one of the best and most under-rated science-fiction films ever made) condemning prejudice?  Was The Truman Show damning a world of voyeurs and security cameras?  Was The Terminal really just a way to stick a million product placements up on walls and sell a bunch of worthless junk for big corporations?  It's all in how you interpret it.  And Lord of War is no exception, although I think that it should have been. 

The movie is entertaining enough.  It is more provocative than most of the films out there today -- It's just that this one could have been so much more.  Did Niccol come up with an idea, only to realize he really had nothing to say?  Did he hold himself back?  Was he held back by the studio?  The film has the visual appeal of Three Kings with the mixed message of Natural Born Killers.  Should we be rooting for Yuri or despising his every action?  I'm going to recommend this one on technical merit alone.  As for the rest, that's up to you to decide.

Agree, disagree, do you wish you had a better education?  Email Alex!

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