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Cage’s latest effort misfires, wins no wars

Observer Scene | Thursday, March 9, 2006

From the very beginning of the film, it is clear that “Lord of War” is no ordinary movie. The opening credits depict the life of a bullet, from the manufacturing process to its firing from a gun. When Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) begins his monologue immediately after this, there is hope that this Andrew Niccol-directed film will be different and insightful. Unfortunately, neither the film nor the DVD of “Lord of War” lives up to this promise.

“Lord of War” is to gun running as “Blow,” the 2001 film starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, is to drug dealing. However, where “Blow” works on many levels, this movie is monotonous and dull. Cage plays a gun runner who strikes it rich at the end of the Cold War, when many small nations bought up all of the surplus arms from the war. In his business he works with African warlords and competes against a rival arms dealer played by Ian Holm. Throughout, Orlov confronts the morality of his profession while simultaneously hiding it from his supermodel wife, Ava Fontaine Orlov (Bridget Moynahan), and an Interpol agent named Valentine (Ethan Hawke). In the end, although his world crumbles around him, Orlov comes to disturbing realizations about the necessity of his job for world order.

This movie has a multitude of problems. For starters, Cage’s acting is very one-dimensional, as usual, and he does voice-over work for much of the movie, limiting any chances for him to actually try to give a performance. The two-hour runtime becomes especially tedious since the scenes are very similar and do not give any new insight to the issues at hand. There are many various subplots, but none is truly developed to any satisfying resolution.

In the face of these problems, the supporting acting in the film helps carry it along. Strong performances from Moynahan, Holm, Hawke and Jared Leto as Yuri Orlov’s brother help make Cage’s acting more palatable. On the whole, the writing in the film is quick and witty, but it rambles on and leads to long and ultimately boring scenes.

Niccol, whose previous efforts include “Gattaca,” attempts to make “Lord of War” into a picture that is provocative and powerful, but all of these problems cause the movie to simply flounder along to its conclusion. There are chances for the film to redeem itself along the way, but “Lord of War” does not grasp them and as a result becomes a big misfire.

The two-disc special edition DVD of the movie is nicely packaged and presented, but there is a lack of substance in the way of special features. A “Making Of” featurette is the only worthwhile inclusion. An interactive weapons animation, boring director’s commentary and a useless photo album of stills from the movie round out the disappointing special features on the second disc.

In a technical blunder, during the transfer from film to DVD, a portion of the film was cropped off to create the DVD’s smaller aspect ratio. While there is no visual impairment to the film, viewers do not see exactly what the director intended. The distributor of the DVD, Lion’s Gate, has not released any media explaining this choice or any future remedies.

The ugly reality of arms dealers who make modern war possible is the intended subject of “Lord of War.” In its progress towards this goal, the movie becomes bogged down by Cage’s acting, the story’s repetitive nature and a general inability to relate a coherent message. The DVD does nothing to help make the experience more enjoyable thanks to its technical glitch and lack of interesting special features.

Overall, “Lord of War” is a dud of a film that falls into the one viewing and done category.