LORD OF WAR

Even if the rest of the movie were worthless, the title sequence alone is not only the best bullet’s-eye-view shot since Three Kings but a fully satisfying short film in itself.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie isn’t worthless and might even be one of my favorites of the year. Playing to his strengths, Cage’s arms dealer is a more sophisticated version of his con artist in Matchstick Men (itself a deserving film untimely overshadowed by Adaptation). They’re both natural salesmen but Yuri Orlov is smoother and slicker, the stakes are higher, and (unencumbered by OCD) there’s nothing to prevent his rise to the top.

The plot begs comparisons to Scarface thanks to a younger partner figure and cocaine, but the quick pace, first-person narrative, black humor, clever editing and visuals — a rifle making cash register noises in slow motion or a plane being dismantled overnight in fast motion — place it closer to Fight Club in the “rewatchability” category. Speaking of Fight Club, Jared Leto is also commendable as Cage’s brother and I’m glad to see Bridget Moynahan finally get in a good movie after The Recruit and I Robot, though she is still a bit underused here.

The non-stop voice-over is effective and appropriate to Cage’s salesman character. He is apparently honest in his narration about his dubious rationales and double life shown on screen but the supposed intimacy and honesty of his voice-over is itself a constant pitch to the audience: no matter how many atrocities we see on screen as a ridiculously direct result of his actions, his likeable personality keeps making him sympathetic, over and over.

British critics are championing it as being bravely un-American but it doesn’t seem targeted against any particular country as much as against the governments of pratically every country, and even the U.N. is shown being exploited by a genocidal dictator. The soundbite statistics and provocative statements about world leaders are too unspecific for the movie to be treated as an expose, and coming from the mouth of Cage’s character — as most of the movie is — they are inherently undermined.

Inexplicably, however, the effect of the ambiguious, subjective narrator — maintained consistently for two hours — is suddenly ruined at the very end by title cards with a couple more too-general-to-be-meaningfully-poignant statistics, whose disembodied objectivity cheaply reduces the whole movie to mere preachiness.

So, because of its political element, Lord of War might get disproportionately noticed next Oscar season, unless its unromanticised view of Africa is too much for Hollywood’s latest pet cause. I think the movie is good enough to be recognized regardless of any evangelistic intentions; the editing and in particular the transitions between scenes were always inventive but never flashy.And if it is nominated for anything, Lord of War will still be in the collective moviegoing consciousness in the summer to remind people, like Adaptation did, that Cage still “has it” as an actor, which I think will make it easier for critics to enjoy Ghost Rider for the movie it is without wondering if his career is in crisis.
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