The film begins with a nice slow pan onto the back of Nicholas Cage who as the film’s lead character Yuri Orlov, will tell his story and will dominate the film. Next we follow the path of a bullet from manufacture to lodgment inside the head of an innocent youth. The audience is set to welcome a roller-coast ride of action and power.
Unfortunately what it gets is a plot with little sympathy for any of its characters and 117 minutes of slow torture as even Nicholas Cage’s world-weariness becomes a little monotonous after the first hour or so.
Never does the film seem to find a purpose. Clearly we are not meant to feel sympathy for Cage’s Orlov, a gunrunner who would sell out everyone he knows; but what of his unsuspecting (but obviously quite stupid) wife? We never see her as anything more than a token glam-girl playing the lead’s glam wife. The part of Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) and her unlikely marriage to Orlov is played as vaguely humorous and tongue-in-cheek which weakens any message when the filmmaker seeks to “get all heavy” and make statements about the international arms trade. Humour can work when counterpoised with drama but we cannot see Orlov as villain and jester at the same time.
Then there is the rather curious racism of the film in the portrayals of Baptiste Senior, Baptiste Junior and the whole of West Africa. Added to that (I viewed the film with a delightful Russian companion who pointed this out to me quite strongly), there is a strong anti-Russian tone in the film. In short, the Africans are brutish monsters and the Russians are corrupt dottards, assisted by the Ukrainians!
Ethan Hawke‘s Jack Valentine is weak. Looking throughout most of the film like an Interpol Officer with an attack of bad constipation, he is the stereotypical bureacratic “loser”.
The one shining light in the film is Jared Leto’s Vitaly Orlov (Yuri’s brother). His role is hindered however, by the aimlessness of the film. He seems to be teaching the audience that drugs are bad, thus reducing he and Cage to a sort of comedy duo: “Yuri is going to show you all that arms dealing is bad and in the other corner, his brother Vitaly will show all the boys and girls how taking drugs and borrowing off your rich brother can make you very depressed and ashamed of yourself”. It’s all rather lame, for want of a better word.
My apologies here as I will reveal part of the ending. Yes Big Old Uncle Sam is finally revealed to be behind it all as the major arm’s dealer in the world. We all knew that anyway, so the ending of the film serves as an anti-climax for any but the most brain dead of cinema-goers.
As the film’s star and one of the producers of the film, Nicholas Cage must accept some responsibility for becoming in the almost two hours of this film not the Lord of War but the lord of bore.