Each year there are quality films that slip through the cracks for one reason or another. Lord of War is one of those movies. At first look, I would blame this film’s lack of financial success on the marketing department. It was hard to get a feel for the film through the trailers and commercials.
What was it about? A gun salesman? With Nicolas Cage and a bunch of spent bullet casings at the front and center of the ad campaigns, one might think that this was another Jerry Bruckheimer action-fest muc… like past Cage vehicles The Rock or Con-Air. But Lord of War could not be more different than those films. OK, so maybe it’s not the marketing department’s fault after all. Lord of War is a tough movie to pin down. And in today’s age of fast food cinema, it’s no surprise that Lord of War was pushed to the back of theaters upon its release.
Lord of War is about Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a Ukrainian immigrant who sees the arms trade, much like funeral parlors, as a business that will never run out of customers. So he and brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) decide to jump in to get their share of the action. After a rocky start that involves Vitaly’s multiple trips to rehab when an arms sale nets them cocaine instead of greenbacks, Yuri steadily rises to the top of the arms trade.
He marries a beautiful model (Bridget Moynahan) that grew up in his old neighborhood, but never recognized him until he became a millionaire. On Christmas morning Yuri celebrates the fall of the Soviet Union, knowing that business will be booming now that there are stockpiles of weapons without use, instead of watching his family open presents. Then Interpol agent, Jack Valentine, gets on Yuri’s trail and desperately wants to take him down. Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm) is a rival arms dealer who will resort to car bombs to get ahead of his competition. And ruthless African dictator Andre Baptiste won’t let Yuri walk away from selling guns after Yuri’s wife gives him an ultimatum. What is a successful arms dealer to do?
What all this mayhem results in is some fine thoughts and statements on the international arms trade after the Cold War, pointing the finger not just at America, but at the entire world. During the opening credits, we see a bullet being manufactured in what looks like a Russian factory. It goes down the assembly line, then into a box that gets delivered to soldiers, then to African warlords. Then the bullet is fired. This sequence sets up the movie perfectly, showing us that guns and bullets are made and sold for one reason and one reason only – to kill.
What could have been a standard tale of an immigrant finding the American Dream through an illegal means, a la Tony Montana via cocaine in Scarface, is made more effective by becoming a commentary on the state of the world’s arms trade and the kind of people that are involved with it. While the messages are pretty bold, they never take over the film and turn it into a morality play, and director Andrew Niccol (screenwriter of The Truman Show and Simone) knows his way around the territory, successfully adds dark humor to moments that would otherwise be rather uncomfortable and cruel.
Nicholas Cage also knows his way around the dark humor territory, playing a character who manages to sleep at night knowing that what he sells will kill thousands of people on a daily basis. Cage handles the role well, adding bravado here, moral ambiguity there, and some good comedic timing as well. Jared Leto has made a living out of being the good-looking sidekick and here he turns in another solid performance as the drug-addicted but well-meaning brother, Vitaly. The rest of the cast, including Moynahan, rounds out the picture well with their roles, never stealing scenes from Cage, but adding to the film with subtle touches of flair and professionalism.
Lord of War may not be your first choice at the video store, and rightfully so. It’s a complex “message” movie, but then again it’s really not. So do yourself a favor and give Lord of War a shot.
Lord of War is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image is slightly grainy, but never distracting. The different landscapes of the film are given different color schemes, and they each affect the quality of the image. But have no fear, this is done on purpose. Overall, the image is never razor sharp, but always clear and free of malfunctions.
This is where Lord of War really shines. The disc comes with a DTS ES 6.1 audio track that is flat out amazing. Although the film is not loaded with action set pieces, scenes with gunfire or airplanes really kick the disc’s audio experience up a notch or five. The subwoofer is given plenty to do, and the surrounds chip in nicely when called upon. But the fronts received most of the action through dialogue, background music and gunfire.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very competent, but lacks the edge and oomph that the DTS ES 6.1 track has. The sub and surrounds are still given a decent work out, but ultimately they can’t compare to the superior DTS track. In today’s technological era, I’ll admit that some advancements hardly improve on what wasalready the standard. But with DTS ES 6.1, the difference between Dolby Digital if very obvious. If you don’t already have a DVD player or audio receiver with DTS capability, I highly recommend getting it for films with audio tracks like Lord of War.
- Director Commentary – Andrew Niccol sounds like he’s falling asleep while giving his commentary, but it’s still very interesting. He’s oddly humble, pointing out the film’s flaws to viewers and explaining his difficult shooting schedule.
- The Making of Lord of War – Here Niccol talks about life imitating art when the crew was forced to rent or purchase weapons from real life arms dealers. And while talking about how his limited shooting locations had to become stand-ins for 13 other foreign countries, Niccol and the crew talk about the overwhelming positive experience shooting in South Africa.
- Making a Killing – Inside the International Arms Trade – an informative featurette that discusses the arms trade and how it affects different countries around the world. It also goes deeper into how weapons affect the African diamond trade, an issue that was briefly shown in the film.
- Weapons of the Trade – an interactive menu that allows the viewer to learn more about the weapons featured in the film.
- Deleted Scenes – mostly extensions of scenes in the movie that were trimmed for flow and running time. Some of the scenes do add some helpful backstory, especially when it comes to the Russian General who turns out to be Yuri’s uncle, but overall these deleted scenes add little to the film.
- Photo Gallery
- Trailers – Here we have trailers for several Lion’s Gate features: Waiting, Grizzly Man, Ultimate Avengers, The Aristocrats, A Good Woman, and In the Mix.
Lord of War is a crucial film in today’s world. It’s also an enjoyable viewing experience because Andrew Niccol doesn’t beat you over the head with a blatant message. He simply presents you with the facts and lets you make your own decision.
Thankfully, the disc is given an excellent treatment, adding to the viewing experience with a great picture and superb audio track. And there are also tons of features to wade through while learning more about the film’s international arms trade issue.
Do yourself a favor, skip over the standard genre films at the video store and take Lord of War home with you next time.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Making Lord of War
- Making a Killing – Inside the International Arms Trade
- Weapons of the Trade
- Deleted Scenes
- Photo Gallery