Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Satirizing the gap between reality and virtuality in The Truman Show (which he wrote) and S1m0ne (which he wrote and directed), Andrew Niccol was hobbled by a distinct lack of subtlety. With Lord of War, the filmmaker has decided to pump up this weakness ’til it explodes: His swaggering, hyperstylized account of an international arms dealer is so brazen that it’s almost Brechtian. After a symbolic opening sequence, the movie slips into Goodfellas mode so that Ukraine-born Brooklynite Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) can introduce himself and his family. As Yuri explains in an extended voice-over, his parents pretended to be Jewish to emigrate to New York, and it’s through contacts at a Brighton Beach synagogue that Yuri scores his first Uzi. Soon he’s dealing big-time to factions in Lebanon and Colombia, blithely unburdened by his contribution to global fratricide. Yuri is disappointed that his partner and younger brother (Jared Leto) can’t handle the guilt and retreats to their parents’ restaurant. But on the plus side, Yuri uses his new wealth to seduce and then marry the supermodel of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan), who never quite gets around to asking her husband what he does to pay for their extravagant Manhattan lifestyle. Then the Berlin Wall comes down, and Yuri can start peddling surplus Warsaw Pact armaments, starting with stuff from his uncle in Ukraine. As he gets involved with homicidal heads of state in Liberia and Sierra Leone, he overtakes his imperious, well-established rival (Ian Holm) and finds an earnest Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) on his trail. Niccol claims to have based Yuri on five real-life arms dealers, but Lord of War ain’t no docudrama. Borrowing from Martin Scorsese, Tsui Hark, and a dozen less distinctive directors, Niccol has crafted a deadly accurate evocation of carnage-loving, bullet-POV-flaunting macho fantasias, even while lacing his movie with indignant farce. The dialogue could be sharper, and the soundtrack (“For What It’s Worth,” “Cocaine,” “Glory Box,” Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah”) is more than a little obvious. But then, obviousness is Niccol’s method here: He’s made a gangsta-glorifying action flick that brashly implicates both the U.S.A. and Hollywood—and thus the viewer—in two decades of international slaughter. —Mark Jenkins